Suppot Navajo Adults with Developmental Disabilities


September 29, 2009 @ 9:37 pm
One Year, One Thousand Green Supers

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With the support of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations and the Real Estate Board of New York, Mayor Bloomberg announced a new, innovative program to train building superintendents in energy efficiency best practices. According to projections cited this Crain’s article, building owners could save $230 million per year in operating costs as a result of program.

The 1,000 superintendents in the pilot project will take a 40-hour course that teaches low or no-cost methods to reduce energy usage, improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. In a pilot project, supers and building managers learned HVAC maintenance techniques, motion detector installation and methods for sealing windows, among other things. Given the number of aging, inefficient buildings in NYC, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit that can be addressed by this program – hopefully the initial year is a success. One concern I had is how much it would cost to administrate (given the city’s current budget constraints) and luckily the program is being funded from an existing union managed training fund (i.e. no incremental cost to taxpayers or employers).

bloombergMayor Bloomberg has been gradually rolling out green initiatives and he had this to say about One Year, One Thousand Green Supers; “Eighty-five percent of the buildings in our city are going to be in active use for at least the next 20 years, and while many people think of green buildings as new buildings, the fact of the matter is making existing buildings more energy efficient is the greater challenge to our economic and environmental health.” In my opinion, this is a logical multi-pronged approach to take.

Photo: Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press

September 25, 2009 @ 11:38 am
Serious Materials for Serious Energy Savings

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According to San Jose Mercury News, Serious Materials – a cleantech startup in Sunnyvale, CA, was funded to the tune of another $60 million this week, bringing its total raised amount to a whopping $120 million. Venture capitalists (VCs) have increasingly focused on cleantech investments, raising billions over the last few years to invest in the sector. Serious Materials is unique in that it has been around since 2002 and has five manufacturing plants producing tangible products and employs about 250-300 people. In previous years much of the VC funding was plowed into Web 2.0 platforms, tech/software startups and biotech R&D – intangible assets and human capital – rather than macro-driven companies with immediate profit potential.

SM_LOGOSerious Materials is developing and selling energy-saving windows, drywall and other products such as lighter-weight, environmentally friendly noise reduction coatings. The company says their products have “the potential to save billions of pounds of CO2 annually,” while offering fast payback periods for their customers. As a result, they don’t need to rely on tax credits or other policies to achieve success.


  • Up to 50% reduction in heating and cooling costs, enables users to recover additional cost within two years in many climates
  • Qualifies for $1,500 tax credit discussed in this post
  • Thin film technology in SeriousGlass provides transparency and infrared reflection to simultaneously block summer heat, retain winter warmth, eliminate UV rays and maximize natural light
  • Available in a wide variety of finishes for virtually any design consideration

EcoRock Drywall

  • Uses 80% less energy to produce than traditional gypsum drywall
  • Made of 80% recycled materials (including from steel and cement plants)
  • Fully reutilizable and safely disposable at end of life (ex: can be pH additive for soil or raw material for new EcoRock or other building materials)
  • The most mold-resistant (by 50%) and lowest emitting drywall (60% less dust)    

Other Products

  • QuietRock – commercial and residential soundproof drywall that is acoustically equivalent to eight sheets of standard drywall
  • ThermaRock – super insulating wall board that is 380-800% more insulating than standard gypsum
  • QuietHome Doors – soundproof doors; 2-1/4” model is THX-Certified
  • Quiet Windows – highest STC (Sound Transmission Class) rating of any windows on the market and they are Energy Star rated as well
  • Coatings – ultra-low VOC coating compounds for computers, cars and other transportation applications

More information can be found on the company’s website.

September 22, 2009 @ 11:13 am
Green Power from Piezoelectric Nanotechnology and Viral Batteries

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I don’t know about you but every time I charge a cell phone or use a laptop I wonder why we don’t have better batteries. It feels like a technological conspiracy that computer processing speed has doubled every 18 months for decades but battery life fails to do the same or come even close to that. If it had, we’d be flying around in battery-powered airplanes and maybe even sailing battery-powered cruise ships. Maybe the consumable nature of batteries prevents faster advances, but our existing batteries can be pretty inefficient, wasteful and often toxic.

I don’t expect the high seas to be filled with battery-powered ships anytime soon, but some very interesting developments are being made on a much smaller scale – the nanoscale in fact. This CNN article leads with the idea that you might be able to recharge your cell phone as long as you were walking. Nanoscale materials are very small; one nanometer equals one billionth of a meter and the scientists featured in the article are using structures that are 100 nanometers and smaller. These structures can be engineered with many interesting properties and performance characteristics such as efficient energy transfer.

The act of me typing this article right now is a release of energy stored inside my body but it is effectively wasted. Sound and heat are generated but the keyboard can’t harness the kinetic energy. In the future it may be able to. Zhong Lin “Z.L.” Wang and his team at Georgia Tech are utilizing the piezoelectric effect (“…the ability of certain materials to generate an electric potential when a stress is applied to them. For instance, if you compress a crystal, it temporarily changes shape, causing the ions inside the crystal to polarize and produce a voltage drop.” The electron flow then produces an energy output.) present in environmentally friendly zinc oxide nanowires to make solar cells and nanogenerators that can utilize energy from any mechanical movement. In the walking example, the body produces 67 watts of mechanical energy that can be converted into 11 watts of electrical energy. The smaller amounts of energy produced by blood flow, breathing, etc. could be used to power medical implants such as glucose meters for diabetics.

piezoeffect Read More…

September 17, 2009 @ 11:10 am
€100K Home with Zero Bills, CO2

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Casa 100k-1

In researching a topic for this Italy-focused post, I came across a Jetson Green article about Casa 100k, the flexible Italian housing solution to achieve affordability and sustainability in a stylish package. Conceived by Mario Cucinella Architects in Bologna, the less is more aesthetic results in a thoroughly modern integration of green building methods.

The prefabricated structure minimizes costs and waste and the individual homes have small footprints and are clustered together for efficiency and low environmental impact. With only 100m² (just over 1000ft2) to heat and cool the prototypical house could operate off-grid, drawing power from solar panels and small vertical axis wind turbines. Using passive solar thermal glass curtain walls and a geothermal heat pump HVAC system for example, makes the homes so efficient that they may even produce enough excess energy to sell back to the grid. Additionally, roof gardens provide insulation, greenery and environmental benefits and contribute to the home’s stormwater management system.

Since nobody wants a home identical to their neighbor’s, many of the internal and external building components can be modified. Interior walls can slide, be removed or bent to create unique floor plans. Meanwhile, the exteriors can be fitted with a variety of interchangeable components that match the overall design while creating variety through balconies, staircases, decks, etc.

Alas, Casa 100k is only a concept for now but the architects have exhibited in Italy and the U.S. – it is only a matter of time before this project and others like it get built.

Casa 100k-2

Photo Credits: Mario Cucinella Architects – Casa 100k

September 14, 2009 @ 10:38 am
A Slingshot to Attack Clean Water Shortage

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In my previous “Got Water…” post, I discussed at length the freshwater issues facing the world in the coming years. Dean Kamen, the well-known inventor of the Segway and a number of medical devices, has made solving the water predicament his latest mission. In this recent article, he echoed my sentiments about the potential water crisis: “In your lifetime, my lifetime, we will see water be a really scarce, valuable commodity,” he said.

SlingshotDean has been working on the Slingshot for over 10 years and he and his team at DEKA Research have been continually improving the prototypes. The device has been demonstrated and field tested in Rwanda, Bangladesh and Honduras. Explaining the 2006 Honduras test, Kamen said “The machine worked very well down there, taking virtually any water that the people from that village brought to us,” he says. “All the water that we got from the machine was absolutely pure water.” The machine runs on a small amount of electricity (less than a hair dryer) and uses a compact vapor compression distiller to boil, distill and vaporize polluted liquid to separate out clean, potable water.

The name Slingshot is an ode to the David and Goliath story and each one is approximately the size of a large dishwasher, capable of producing 250 gallons of clean water daily (enough for about 100 people). Targeting small villages in developing countries, Kamen has also developed an innovative companion generator to power the Slingshot if need be. The generator can be run on virtually any fuel and has been demonstrated successfully using cow dung!

As is often the case with new technology, cost is a major gating issue. The Slingshot costs thousands per machine to build but Kamen would like to sell the units for $2,000 once they improve the engineering and increase production. His Segway was a commercial failure because very few people were willing to pay several thousand dollars for a funny looking, self-propelled scooter. Here’s hoping he succeeds with the Slingshot.

September 11, 2009 @ 12:09 pm
Europe’s Greenest City?

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I had heard of Sheffield (a city in north central England) before but haven’t been there and didn’t know much about it until I came across various authorities referring to it as the UK’s greenest city or Europe’s greenest city. So, of course I was curious and wanted to learn more by doing some research for this UK-focused post. Sheffield blog warns that, “Sheffielders are rightly proud of their city and are always happy to extol its virtues at any opportunity,” and we all know greenness is fairly subjective and difficult to measure.


However, Sheffield has some great statistics in its favor; particularly in terms of natural greenery. Creative Sheffield notes the following:

  • Despite its urban location almost three-quarters of the city is taken up by natural vegetation and waterways.
  • More than a third of the city is located in the Peak District National Park – no other city has a National Park within its boundary.
  • In addition you’ll find 150 woodlands and 50 public parks all within Sheffield and it is rumoured that there are 4 mature trees to every person living here!
  • Over 44 per cent of Sheffield residents live within a five minute walk of a wood and half the city’s population live within 15 minutes of the open countryside. Imagine that!

All of this is quite impressive for a city of over 500,000 people. The handy pie chart from the referenced site shows the details including the 72% of greenspace, woodland and water referred to in the first bullet point.


Read More…

September 8, 2009 @ 12:21 pm
LEED Building Performance Initiative Launched

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leedThanks to my friend and reader Max for directing me to this Green Inc. article about U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) efforts to improve LEED certification. I addressed this issue in last week’s “Good News, Bad News” post. In that post I mentioned the efforts and need to recertify buildings over time as well as the desire to focus on energy savings instead of more cosmetic green features.

Several comments in the referenced article address the divide between the LEED checklist and the goals of the process, such as energy conservation. Another criticism is that the requirements can be too generic and not reflective specific site characteristics (climate, location, functionality, etc.). To address these concerns and others the USGBC developed the performance initiative detailed in this press release.

The ultimate goal of their plans is to collect a broad array of data that can be analyzed and disseminated to building owners and managers to improve and maximize the performance of LEED buildings. “This initiative is about gathering knowledge about building performance in a way no one has ever done before,” said USGBC LEED Senior Vice President, Scot Horst. “The information that we collect from our certified projects is a workable, holistic approach for achieving better performing buildings…We want to be able to show people that there are cost efficiencies as well as environmental benefits…The more we know, the more we’ll adapt. I can see a point where the whole system is based on performance and buildings will have to be recertified on a regular basis.”

Success would have dramatic results given the scale and growth of the industry. According to the press release, there are now over 131,000 LEED Accredited Professionals and 35,000 participating projects comprising more than 7.1 billion square feet in the 50 U.S. states and 91 countries. And, the USGBC believes “greater building efficiency can meet 85% of future U.S. demand for energy.”

September 5, 2009 @ 10:12 am
Plastics by the Numbers

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My post on plastic bag bans proved popular, so I thought I would follow up with some interesting statistics I came across in the latest Discover Magazine (Credit: Jeremy Jacquot):

  • Plastic Packaging – 63 pounds per person end up in U.S. landfills yearly (plastic represents 16% of all municipal solid waste and 50-80% of litter in beaches, oceans and seabeds
  • Plastic recycling – 6.8% of plastics used in 2007 were recovered for recycling (37% of plastic soda bottles and 28% of plastic milk and water jugs); making products with recycled materials takes 50% less energy than starting from scratch
  • Plastic production – expected to be 300 million metric tons in 2010, half of which will be used for disposable applications (about 25% goes into long-term infrastructure
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) – a 2007 CDC study found 93% of individuals 6 years and older had detectable levels of BPA in their urine; a number of studies have found safety/health issues with this chemical including a National Toxicology Program report that indicated there was “some concern” over the developmental effects of BPA on infants and children
  • Degradation – it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to completely degrade in a marine environment (at least plastic beverage packaging uses over 50% less energy than glass or metal packaging)


September 3, 2009 @ 12:57 pm
Tax Incentives Galore for U.S. Energy Savings

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As a result of federal legislation, there a multitude of tax breaks available for residential and commercial renovation and construction projects completed this year and in some cases continuing to 2016. Below I have provided briefings on the tax credits available to homeowners, builders and the tax deductions available to commercial building owners/designers. This post focuses on federal incentives, but many states also offer incentives for renewables and energy efficiency; details can be found at

There are three categories of improvements homeowners can make with different benefits and timelines: 1) Energy efficiency – replacing/installing qualified windows/doors, insulation, roofs, HVAC, water heaters and biomass stoves can result in a tax credit at 30% of the cost up to $1,500 in 2009 and 2010. 2) Renewable energy – geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, small wind energy systems and fuel cells qualify for tax credits of 30% of the cost with upper limit on the amount through 2016. 3) Cars – $2,500-$7,500 credit for plug-in hybrids (up to 250,000 vehicles) and a tax credit amount based on an efficiency formula for hybrid gas-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel and fuel cell vehicles (60,000 vehicle limit per manufacturer so Toyota and Honda have been phased out but it is available for Ford, GM and Nissan).

Given the limitation in category 1, homeowners should choose improvements wisely to maximize the monetary benefits. Generally speaking, adding attic and wall insulation and sealing air leaks provide the most bang for your buck (particularly in colder climates); each can generally be installed for several hundred dollars and each can provide over $200 in annual savings (again, best results in colder climates). The table below taken from the Energy Star website provides a summary of the tax credit details and requirements (I left out the “Notes” column).

Product Category

Product Type

Tax Credit Specification

Tax Credit

Insulation Insulation Meets 2009 IECC & Amendments 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Windows & Doors Exterior Windows and Skylights Before June 1, 2009:Must meet ENERGY STAR criteriaAfter June 1, 2009:U factor <= 0.30SHGC <= 0.30 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Storm Windows In combination with the exterior window over which it is installed:

  1. has a U-factor and SHGC of 0.30 or below
  2. Meets the IECC
30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Exterior Doors Before June 1, 2009:Must meet ENERGY STAR criteriaAfter June 1, 2009:U factor <= 0.30SHGC <= 0.30 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Storm Doors In combination with a wood door over which it is installed:

  1. has a U-factor and SHGC of 0.30 or below
  2. Meets the IECC
30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Roofing Metal Roofs, Asphalt Roofs All ENERGY STAR qualified metal and reflective asphalt shingles 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
HVAC Central A/C Split Systems:EER >=13SEER >= 16Package systems:EER >= 12

SEER >= 14

30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Air Source Heat Pumps Split Systems:HSPF >= 8.5EER >= 12.5SEER >= 15Package systems:

HSPF >= 8

EER >= 12

SEER >= 14

30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Natural Gas or Propane Furnace AFUE >= 95 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Oil Furnace AFUE >= 90 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Gas, Propane, or Oil Hot Water Boiler AFUE >= 90 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Advanced Main Air Circulating Fan No more than 2% of furnace total energy use. 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Water Heaters Gas, Oil, Propane Water Heater Energy Factor >= 0.82or a thermal efficiency of at least 90%. 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Electric Heat Pump Water Heater Same criteria as ENERGY STAR: Energy Factor >= 2.0 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Biomass Stove Biomass Stove Stove which burns biomass fuel to heat a home or heat water.Thermal efficiency rating of at least 75% as measured using a lower heating value. 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Geo-Thermal Heat Pump Geo-Thermal Heat Pump Same criteria as ENERGY STAR:Closed Loop:EER >= 14.1COP >= 3.3Open Loop:

EER >= 16.2

COP >= 3.6

Direct Expansion:

EER >= 15

COP >= 3.5

30% of cost
Solar Energy Systems Solar Water Heating At least half of the energy generated by the “qualifying property” must come from the sun. Homeowners may only claim spending on the solar water heating system property, not the entire water heating system of the household.The credit is not available for expenses for swimming pools or hot tubs.The water must be used in the dwelling.The system must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC). 30% of cost
Photovoltaic Systems Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement. 30% of cost
Small Wind Energy Systems Residential Small Wind Turbines Has nameplate capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts. 30% of cost
Fuel Cells Residential Fuel Cell and microturbine system Efficiency of at least 30% and must have a capacity of at least 0.5 kW. 30% of the cost, up to $500 per .5 kW of power capacity
Cars Hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles   Based on a formula determined by vehicle weight, technology, and fuel economy compared to base year models
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles   $2,500–$7,500

1Subject to a $1,500 maximum per homeowner for all improvements combined.

Home Builders
Home builders can receive a $2,000 tax credit for each new energy efficient home that achieves 50% energy savings for heating and cooling over the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and supplements. The homes must be completed and sold by December 31, 2009. For manufactured homes the credit is $1,000 to the producer and the home must achieve 30% energy savings for heating and cooling over the 2004 IECC and supplements, or the home must meet the requirements established by EPA under the ENERGY STAR program. For more details, see here.

Commercial Buildings
According to Energy Star, “A tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot is available to owners or designers of new or existing commercial buildings that save at least 50% of the heating and cooling energy of a building that meets ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2001. Partial deductions of up to $.60 per square foot can be taken for measures affecting any one of three building systems: the building envelope, lighting, or heating and cooling systems. These tax deductions are available for systems “placed in service” from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2013.” The link above provides information on calculations, IRS guidance, etc. 

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September 1, 2009 @ 10:56 am
Good News and Bad News on Green Building Results

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Not surprisingly, there is some inconsistency in the outcomes derived from LEED and other green certified buildings. It is not necessarily anyone’s fault, but models don’t always match reality and some certification bodies are better than others when it comes to monitoring the ongoing energy efficiencies and other features of green buildings. My friend and reader, Billy, referred me to a NY Times article over the weekend that downplayed the successes of all green buildings by featuring one bad apple – a Youngstown, Ohio government building. This building has some bad statistics in terms of energy savings, but it was only originally certified at the lowest LEED level and the author finally admits at the end of the article that LEED requirements have evolved to the point where it wouldn’t qualify if constructed today. For its part, the U.S. Green Building Council has plans to incorporate more stringent recertification processes in the future.

The Times article also uses some crafty rhetoric to make a negative inference by noting half of LEED buildings didn’t meet EPA Energy Star label requirements. These are two different systems and the overwhelming majority (about 68%) had Energy Star ratings above the national median and over 30% of LEED buildings were in the top two deciles. To read more details and draw your own conclusions, the study is here. For more good news, one can look at cost savings/net present value of green buildings vs. conventional buildings.

The additional upfront costs of LEED certified buildings have been analyzed by a number of parties who found the premium to range from 2-5% according to Reed Construction Data. They note that much of the cost is architectural and engineering design time and commissioning (tested system conformance with design). Looking at the tangible cost savings from energy and resource efficiency, increased earnings from tenant retention/premium rent and the intangible productivity and health benefits, one can calculate the net present value (NPV) obtained by constructing and owning a green building. Greg Kats of Capital E analyzed 20 year NPVs in this 2003 study to come up with more than $50/ft2 of net benefits (lower numbers in range are for Certified/Silver-rated buildings, higher numbers are for Gold/Platinum-rated buildings):

Type of Benefit 20-year Net Present Value / sq. feet
Energy Savings $5.80
Emissions Savings $1.20
Water Savings $0.50
Operations and Maintenance Savings $8.50
Productivity and Health Benefits $36.90 – $55.30
Subtotal $52.90 – $71.30
Initial Investment in Green Building Practices $3.00 – $5.00
Total 20-year Net Benefit $50 – $65

In a rigorous study of a Rutgers building expected to be LEED Silver-rated, the green features were calculated to have a positive net present value in a conservative base case scenario. Since the building is institutional, there is no premium rent component to the analysis (i.e. the results would be better given a for-profit building that charge premium rent for green features).

The corresponding bad news is that green construction costs are overestimated by 300% and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from buildings are underestimated by 50% according to a 2007 survey. 1,400 respondents guessed that green buildings are 17% more expensive instead of the true 5% premium. Those surveyed also thought buildings produced only 19% of GHGs rather than the actual 40%. With more knowledgeable market participants and improved certification oversight, the good news has every opportunity to outweigh the bad news.

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