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!

Sustainability Gaining Momentum for Government Managed Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I recently had the pleasure of doing a presentation to the General Services Administration (GSA) region 3 office in Philadelphia.  I was invited by a GSA architect who had participated in a previous seminar I had conducted for the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  The presentation was also simulcast to other GSA offices as well as employees who were telecommuting.

What I was not aware of prior to my visit is that GSA in responsible for public buildings that are non-military, non-postal service or other organizations that control their own real estate around the county. Not only do they have continuing education requirements within their organization they have a strong emphasis on sustainability. That’s exactly what you want to hear from government.

GSA serves as the property managers for many of the buildings around us every day. Given that at least 90 percent of our building inventory needs to be upgraded for energy efficiency, it was reassuring to see that the folks who are responsible for government controlled public buildings are on board with sustainability and are staying on the leading edge of knowledge. I was especially pleased to learn that the emphasis of sustainability doesn’t simply stop at how a building is designed and constructed but goes all the way through the way the GSA operates and procures for these buildings.

It was great to see that the culture of GSA is entrenched in sustainability.  That, for me, sends a message that we are on the right track of a very long road toward significant improvements in reducing the carbon footprint of our building inventory.

Vegetative Roofs Could Save On Water Bills

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Often, when I am conducting seminars on sustainable solutions for buildings, the question comes up regarding the benefits of a vegetative roofing system.  One of the major benefits starting to take place provides a boost to a company or building owners’ bottom line – reduced water bills!

Some major municipalities such as Portland, Oregon are beginning to reward building owners with reduced water bills when systems are put in place in or on the building to reduce the storm water run-off.  The reason for this is many municipalities have a co-mingled system where storm water and sewer discharge are carried through the storms drains to the treatment plant together. Very often, in a significant rain event, the capacity of the system is overwhelmed. As a result, the overflow of raw effluent runs into estuaries and the municipality can incur fines because the storm drains were overloaded.

LiveRoof

What I have seen is that companies who take measures to control the rainwater run-off on their sites are starting to be rewarded for their efforts.  One practice which is gaining in popularity is the utilization a vegetative or live roof and municipalities are rewarding companies for installing vegetative roofs by reducing water rates.  That can be a significant savings for a large, multi-tenant building.

When you think about it, this is a very interesting angle that municipalities are taking to promote the use of green roofs.  It is a win-win in that it controls utility costs for the building owner which offsets the cost of the installation of the vegetative roof.  It is a positive for the community because it helps to maintain and prolong the life of the utility systems by not overloading them. It also can provide a nice environment for occupants if they have access to the roof.

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

KISS: Keep it Simple Sustainability! – Part 2

 
 

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation

When I’m making a decision, the engineer in me likes to start with the facts.  Not opinions, not beliefs, not recommendations – those are all very interesting and sometimes even entertaining, and they do have their place, but only to compensate for the absence of facts. 

But where and how do we find facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized to allow comparison?

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one tool that generates scientifically grounded facts and is fairly comprehensive because it takes into consideration the entire life of a product.  When converted into an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), it gives us facts that are not only science based, but also relevant to performance and standardized thanks to Product Category Rules (PCR).   LCA’s can be published to the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) program offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that allows the comparison of various products based on the environmental and economic impacts as assessed in the LCA’s.

Great!  Now we have facts that we can use to start our decision making process and to make fair comparisons.  So why isn’t everybody using them?

Well, to be fair many are asking for them but only a few are using them because there aren’t that many to use!  The problem is that EPD’s are complex and time consuming to generate. The process begins with Product Category Rules (PCR).  A PCR is a form of guidance and rules for the collection of data and other information. A PCR is established for a specific product category and remains consistent for all products within that category that are seeking to publish an EPD. 

An LCA must be performed  and an EPD developed with guidance from the PCR to deliver a concise explanation of the environmental impacts found from the LCA. EPD’s provide us with the facts about the sustainability of a product. 

If that isn’t hard enough, there is another barrier.  For some products, there are no product category rules because they have not yet been created in the U.S.   In order to create these rules there needs to be consensus among all the “players” in a particular category. For innovative products, you may only have one player. 

As an industry we, perhaps, should consider creating a standard Product Category Rule across an entire category or large groups of categories that level the playing field for all players. Once that is in place, it removes one barrier to EPD’s coming into the marketplace.

After all, does the “Nutrition Facts” label on your bottle of milk look any different from the label on your bag of chips?   Sure the values are different, but it’s the same set of facts measured the same way.

Facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized = transparency.

KISS: Keep it Simple Sustainability! – Part 1

 

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation

Not least among the challenges of sustainability are the challenges of recognizing and avoiding greenwashing. The market seems to want sustainability and demand greener products but it also wants to know, understandably, that the claims of sustainability are credible and have been verified. 

From a manufacturer’s standpoint, we look for ways to provide that credibility, which in turn we hope will give us a competitive edge, accelerate the adoption and sales of our products and bring value to our sustainability efforts.  We are, after all, a competitive and profit oriented bunch. So, over the last few years, most manufacturers have moved from making blanket statements about sustainability towards fact based claims and they are now moving even further towards the use of third party labels. 

This is all very good and generally positive, but does it help the customer?

The problem is that not all labels are created equal and for the most part, labels are not even comparable, which does not help the consumer much.  While there is certainly value in the 3rd party validation that a label offers, we are essentially shifting the burden of credibility from products to labels. 

I propose that what consumers need to facilitate good decisions are not verifications of a myriad claims of uncertain value in their context, but a few simple, relevant facts and the knowledge required to evaluate them in context. 

Should the facts be verified? Certainly!  That’s where third party validation would be valuable. 

 This is part one of this blog.  Watch for the second installment.

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.

Embodied Energy Versus Operational Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Recently during a webinar I was conducting, the topic came up of embodied energy versus operational energy.  This topic continues to come up as building scientists evaluate systems with regard to their sustainability.

There are two things that can make a product green. It can be green in its manufacture or it can be green in its application.  One of the important topics for understanding the manufacture or delivery of a product is the concept of embodied energy – how much cumulative energy went into the extraction of the raw materials, the manufacture of the product and the transportation of the product to its final application.  This is the concept of embodied energy. Operational energy relates to how much energy the product uses or can save once it has been applied or installed into a system. 

For instance, look at insulation. Many types of insulation are actually very energy intensive in their manufacture, however once they are installed they can save many times over within the very first year of their application. A perfect example of operational energy is fiberglass insulation. In its first year of use, fiberglass insulation can save 12 times the amount of energy it took in making and transporting the product.

So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, material that is superior in performance with regard to the life cycle of a building may have a little bit of negative upfront energy costs, however in its use can be very positive. 

So don’t make a judgment solely based on the embodied energy but rather on the life cycle of the project to determine if it is positive or negative for the project itself.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Living Inside a Cooler – The Challenges of the Net-Zero Building Envelope

Lucas Hamilton

Can we live inside a cooler? We’re going to find out.

As we respond to the challenges of energy and resource depletion through the construction of super efficient and sustainable buildings we must remember why we are constructing buildings in the first place- it’s for people. The net-zero envelope is like a portable cooler – super tight, thermally efficient, and breathes no air.  The easiest was to create super efficient buildings is to just copy a portable cooler and then shove people inside. However, a building’s primary function is to provide a safe and healthy habitat for people. The success of any building technique or approach should be judged by this criterion first.

When struggling to find motivation for doing the right thing – good indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in this case – we have a strong incentive when it comes to our homes.  We love our families and want them to have the best environment we can provide.

In a commercial setting, since some of us don’t love our co-workers, we need to find a different motivation. A really smart guy I know (no name dropping here) explained to me that when a building occupant such as a large corporation considers where they are spending their operational costs, the break-out is 15/85. 15% goes to operation of the space; the rent, the light bill, the toner cartridges, etc. 85% goes to Human Resources (salaries, benefits, etc.). Perhaps it is here that we find good cause for doing right.

In this sort of space we can create a more financially based argument by focusing on the impact of good IEQ on worker productivity and related issues. We know that IEQ leads to better problem solving, increased productivity, lower absenteeism and lower health care expenses. I would also suggest that it leads to a greater sense of happiness and accomplishment.

Now let’s get the building envelope dialed in. We can do zero energy. We can do zero carbon. We’ve gone from negative to neutral. The challenge now is can we do this so that it has a positive effect on people?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation