Transparency and Green Labels for The Home

Product Life CycleWhile I was waiting for my coffee to brew this morning in the office, I started reading the ingredients on the back of the sweetener I planned to use. There was one ingredient that I didn’t recognize. Being a scientist, I am naturally curious so I looked it up. I was shocked to find out that the sweetener contained an ingredient that emits formaldehyde above 92 degrees Fahrenheit. So I chose a different sweetener.

How fortunate am I that I caught that and had the resources to understand what it was telling me. But how many people have no idea what some of this means? It made me think about the benefit and value of the emerging forms of transparency about the products that we buy and use in our homes. This information is very insightful and when we make it available in a form that people can digest and employ it has real value to customers and consumers.  An informed consumer is a better consumer and manufacturers are beginning to embrace the concept of transparency through Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations and Health Product Declarations. If you are interested in learning more about transparency in the building materials industry, I addressed this issue in a blog post.

For a more in depth and current discussion of the topic, please consider attending the webinar I am conducting on Tuesday, February 18 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm EST titled Publications for Product Life Cycle Assessment.  This course is accredited with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

 

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

Small is Beautiful in this Contemporary Cabin from Simplex Homes

When you start to think about downsizing  you may want to consider modular construction if you are building.  At Greenbuild this year, the Green Zone exhibited a wonderful option.Simplex House

The Greenbuild Cabin, designed by Resolution:4 Architecture and built by Simplex Homes, was an excellent example of more efficient living similar to the types of residential options you would see at the Solar Decathlon.  Attendees at Greenbuild could see products at work in a modular one-room retreat that was aesthetically very pleasing.

The 806-square-foot cabin is designed to have a strong connection to the exterior, with abundant natural lighting achieved through low-e, Argonne-filled, double-pane glass. With a LEED Platinum certification as the goal, the cabin employs a number of green technologies, including rainwater collection, a greywater system, photovoltaic array, EPDM rubber membrane roofing system and a super-insulated envelope.

The cabin houses a fully functional kitchen and, through its creative use of space and natural lighting, invites residents to live large.  

An Insight from Green Building Guru: David Gottfried

GottfriedAt Greenbuild 2013, we were thrilled to welcome David Gottfried, the founder of the U.S. Green Building Council to our exhibit. His visit coincided with the launch of his newest book, “Explosion Green”. In this excerpt from Building Design + Construction magazine, David offers the following advice to green building professionals:

Don’t give up. We started with nothing — no money, no board, no brochure, no green building rating system. A lot of people did not take us seriously. However, we were able to collect those who had passion, a spirit for change and wanted a bigger purpose in life. And then, we supported each other when mountain climbing got steep and we kept at it. We found our way and invented the fasting growing industry for changing earth and the economy…and built a core around the world of millions of people. Stay the course and don’t give up…

Well said, Mr. Gottfried. We agree and look forward to reading your new book!

Greenbuild 60-Second Stopby: Kohler

KohlerTolietOne of the best hands-on demonstrations I saw at Greenbuild this year was the Kohler Toliet Tour (Booth #401). There were a wide array of functional toilets on display that showcased performance benefits such as the amount of waste that can be removed; glazing that enhances cleanliness; and, water-saving features. According to Kohler, the demonstration in the picture above tests the exchange of water in the bowl in conjunction with light waste removal. In layman’s terms, a cup of plastic beads are dropped in the bowl. If the toilet is flushed and more than 125 beads remain in the bowl, then the toilet is not up to par. In this case, only one bead remained, so the toilet had passed with flying colors. If these experiments peak your interest, you can get ongoing updates by following the hashtag #KohlerTolietTour.

Greenbuild 60-Second Stopby: Davies Office

homebanner-Custom-Private-OfficeIf you are in the midst of a major office remodel, refurbishing your existing furniture might be easier than you think — and save you money. A quick stop by the Davies Office exhibit (#2837) included a radical transformation of outdated office furniture into a modern, colorful workspace. With a 40-year track record, Davies Office continues to help companies significantly reduce their environmental impact. For example, a recent project for Computer Science Corporation in Falls Church, Va., resulted in initial savings of $250,000 in warehousing cost, 346,822 pounds of waste material diverted from landfills and 1,005,784 pounds of raw material conserved. If you’re at the Greenbuild Expo, it’s definitely worth a stop by!

Greenbuild 60-Second Stopby: Bike Lid

Screen shot 2013-11-21 at 8.28.58 AMAccording to the New York City Department of Transportation, the main reason people do not ride a bike to work is lack of secure, long-term parking. As a result, companies such as Bike Lid (booth #4240) are bringing new products into the marketplace to help change this perception.

Bike Lid offers a unique alternative for bike storage — a durable  “clam shell” design with industrial spring-loaded hinges. Its easy for bikers to use and even more easy to maintain since the lids are resistant to graffiti, scratches, rust and dents. An added benefit? Their sleek design can offers revenue potential, with plenty of surface real estate for sponsors and advertisers.

Green Building Guru: Jason Kliwinski, Green Building Center

At the Green Builder Center exhibit (#2311), the concept of resilient design was top of mind. A recently published white paper by Jason Kliwinski, LEED Fellow, sheds important light on how “resiliency” plays a role in sustainable design. Specifically, Kliwinski says that to achieve resilient design, you must:

Plan ahead and expect the worst essentially. Thinking about how you will heat and cool your building without grid power, integrating storm water management strategies on your property and in your community to handle storm surges and to protect your property and lives, considering alternative means of transportation if you have to navigate closed or damaged roads or channel get fuel…

Are these considerations already apart of your planning process? If not, check out the full white paper at www.greenlivingandbuildingcenter.com.

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.

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?