New & Notable
May 05, 2010
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2010 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Green Building Can Be Both Efficient and Affordable
After taking over an old photo album factory in Claremont, New Hampshire, Preferred Building Systems (PBS) retooled the facility to manufacture its custom energy-efficient homes. Though modular, the 300-plus homes that PBS has built to date are custom-built, and each one is totally unique. But one thing unites them all: efficiency. In fact, PBS homes can be up to 41% more efficient than standard construction, thanks in part to PBS’s dedication to efficient building, and to its use—and reuse—of green materials. Instead of building the home from the ground floor up, the team at PBS starts with the drywall, laying down each sheet individually to ensure precision, quality, and a more-efficient envelope for the home. Inside the walls, PBS uses the state-of-the-art—and totally green—Nu-Wool insulation, which is made from 100% recycled paper. In addition, all of the wood studs are 100% recycled. Bruce Bennett, a certified Energy Star rater with GDS Associates, has had nothing but praise for PBS. “While some of the homes’ performance is out of your control once the component leaves your plant,” he says, “I want to thank you again for developing a process and making a commitment to ensure that your products have been built to comply with the Energy Star guidelines, thereby creating a product that performs at a higher level of energy efficiency without sacrificing comfort and durability.”
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Copenhagen Happened — Where Do We Go from Here?
COP15 has come and gone. Some say it failed; there was poor reportage on what was really happening, meetings weren’t really working, and several countries walked out in frustration. Others found gems within the conference in spite of the predictable disappointments. Ianto Evans, founder of the North American School for Natural Building, was asked to talk about the ways the natural building movement could address global warming. He was moved by how far ahead of the Americans other countries are, citing as one example the European car manufacturers’ ability to make cars that run on less gasoline. “It impressed me how much Denmark is doing as a country. They have made a commitment to reducing their carbon emissions 80% by 2050. I read the plans and it all makes total sense. For example, any house built after 2009 will need to be carbon neutral. The British countries made a commitment to a 60% cut in emissions by 2050. We’ll see what happens.”
Several groups have formed in order to remain in the conversation about what happens after COP15. Colorado State University, for example, hosted a one-day symposium on February 24, 2010, called “Life After Copenhagen: Where Do We Go from Here?” This program featured members of Colorado State University’s official delegation to Copenhagen: Jill Baron, with the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory; Michele Betsill, with the Department of Political Science; Gillian Bowser, with Warner College of Natural Resources; Scott Denning, with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences; and Stephen Ogle, with the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory.
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Brooklyn Multifamily Gets Laars Pennants
In May 2009, as part of an energy audit, Steven Winter Associates (SWA), with four offices on the east coast, recommended that St. Nick Alliance’s Williamsburg Court multifamily housing in Brooklyn, New York, replace its existing boilers with two new Laars Pennant boilers. Up until then, heating and drain water heat recovery domestic hot water (DHW) for the 59-unit Brooklyn building had been provided by eight atmospheric gas boilers. As Marc Zuluaga, PE at SWA says, “Every atmospheric boiler plant in Brooklyn and beyond is a candidate for this type of retrofit.” The new boilers are piped together and connected to two Turbomax indirect hot water tanks for DHW. This piping configuration allows for redundancy, so that in case one boiler goes down, the other boiler can still satisfy both heat and DHW loads. Since the old boilers were near the end of their life, the owner was going to have to make a significant capital investment no matter what, making the high-performance alternative a slam dunk. Based on the post-retrofit utility bills analyzed to date, St. Nick’s Alliance will save approximately $11,000 per year with the new boiler plant and realize a 9.5-year payback. After energy upgrades were completed, the utility sent someone to investigate the meter for “tampering” due to unusually low readings. That’s always a good sign.
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Step by Step, Drop by Drop
According to the Los Angeles Times, the city of Los Angeles Board of Public Works took the first step toward conserving the city's rainwater by passing a Low Impact Development (LID) plan in January. The plan would require rainwater harvesting (capturing and reuse) on all new homes and large developments, as well as on some redevelopment projects. It specifies the various methods that must be used to capture, reuse, or infiltrate all of the rainwater runoff that is generated by a ¾-inch rainstorm. These methods include installing rainwater storage tanks, permeable pavement, infiltration swales, or curb bump-outs to encourage infiltration, reuse, and to prevent water from going down storm drains.
LID can help manage urban runoff, conserve water, and improve the quality of a city’s water supply. LID reduces the impact of urban development on the systems that naturally recycle water such as soil and plants, replenishes groundwater, improves the quality of surface water runoff, stabilizes natural stream characteristics, and preserves natural site characteristics. The primary purpose of LID is to protect the quality of potable water but, it can also be used to augment the supply of water for landscape irrigation, which comprises 40%–70% of Southern California’s overall use, and thus free up a substantial amount of water for the city and its residents.
The plan must still be approved by the city council. “But this alone is a big step forward,” says Andy Lipkis, president of TreePeople, a Southern California-based nonprofit that supports the natural benefit of urban trees through education and technology. In his blog, Lipkis argues that it will be decades, not just years, before Los Angeles begins to see the benefits of the LID plan. And he adds, “Accelerating LID implementation represents the fastest, best way to establish a sustainable clean water supply for Los Angeles…. Creating an aggressive incentive program can speed the way.”
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Green Building Guidance to Underresourced Colleges and Universities
BuildingGreen, publishers of Environmental Building News and GreenSpec, has partnered with Second Nature, which is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help colleges and universities expand their efforts to make environmentally sustainable and just action a foundation of all learning and practice in higher education. Together, BuildingGreen and Second Nature will provide practical and timely information and guidance to underresourced colleges and universities across the United States. Second Nature has launched a capacity-building program, Advancing Education for Sustainability: Teaching the Concepts of Green Building to All Students to address the challenges faced by underresourced colleges and universities that hope to build green on their campuses. Through this program, BuildingGreen is offering highly discounted access to the premium content in BuildingGreen Suite of online tools to participating colleges and universities.
BuildingGreen’s founder and executive editor, Alex Wilson, has also been participating in the drafting of a study guidance document entitled Advancing Education for Sustainability: Teaching the Concepts of Green Building to All Students.
Second Nature is pleased to partner with BuildingGreen to provide decision makers at these schools with the opportunity to learn from the resources available to construct and renovate campus buildings in ways that save money, that reduce the impact on residents’ health and on the environment; and that serve as educational tools.
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