Suppot Navajo Adults with Developmental Disabilities


October 5, 2009 @ 11:37 am
Future Green Innovators Descend on D.C. Mall

Bookmark and Share

Later this week (Oct. 9th, see events), the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Solar Decathlon” educational competition and exhibition opens on the National Mall in D.C. Every year, applications are solicited around the world and 20 university-based teams are given $100,000 of start-up capital to “design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. I was reminded of the event by an alumni bulletin from my alma mater, Penn State.

A multidisciplinary team of 17 students and faculty from the colleges of earth and mineral sciences, engineering, and arts and architecture has spent months developing their design and preparing the structure for judging in D.C. A previous Penn State entry in 2007 won fourth place and team members from this year’s entry, “Natural Fusion,” think they can do even better this year. “We came very close to third place (in 2007),” said team member Thomas Rauch. “We were in contention until the last day of the competition. That ending left a sour taste, so we are excited to participate again, and we feel that we have a real shot at first place this year.” They’ll have to withstand strong competition from other schools in the U.S. as well as students in Germany, Spain and Canada. Here’s a time lapse video of Penn State’s construction (with high energy soundtrack accompaniment.

As the name of the competition implies, the homes must be powered exclusively by the sun and they will be judged in 10 categories:

As you can see, to be successful, the homes must be attractive to live in, environmentally sound and energy efficient while still providing all the creature comforts of modern life. This might seem like a daunting task, but it is attainable – and these are college students –who are very creative. A 2007 team was unphased when they wanted to use a geothermal heat pump but wouldn’t be able to excavate the National Mall; they just designed their house with a rooftop pond! The combination of young innovators and more solar power portends a bright future.

Good luck to my fellow Penn Staters on the “Natural Fusion” team!

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

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share


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. 

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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.

Bookmark and Share

August 30, 2009 @ 12:43 pm
Conserving Water with the Flick of a Switch

Bookmark and Share

This week I received a clever, water saving product from one of my readers for review and testing purposes. The UZLOW valve is a simple attachment that can be added to any standard pipe/shower head to conserve water and save energy. It allows you to limit water flow when you don’t need it, thus reducing water usage and water heating needs.


If you think about it, much of the water dispensed during a shower is wasted because we stay out of the water when lathering, shampooing and shaving, etc. That is the principle behind UZLOW; it allows you to reduce the water flow without impacting the water temperature. When pushed back, the switch/handle is in low flow mode and when flipped forward the water flow returns to normal. Installing the valve was a breeze – my shower was fully operational in about 5 minutes. The valve arrives in 3 parts and you need just a wrench and some pipe tape to complete the installation. Easy to follow instructions (including pictures) walk you through the process step-by-step. Essentially you unscrew your showerhead, wrap the pipe threads in tape, screw on the valve body, insert the flow regulator, attach the switch, put some tape on the valve threads and screw on your showerhead.


I’ve taken a couple showers with the product now and it works as well as advertised. In my quick test to verify the 70% water flow reduction, I found that in regular flow position my shower head dispensed approximately 2 gallons of water per minute. Using the low flow setting, this volume was reduced to about 2/3 of a gallon per minute. This equates to a 67% flow reduction which is right in line with the claim (my test involved a simple bucket, no fancy scientific instruments). I would estimate that half your time in the shower could be in low flow mode so during a ten minute shower you could save almost 7 gallons of water per shower. Multiply that by the number of showers taken in your household and the water and $$$ savings add up quickly. Costing only $19.95 per valve or $15.95 per valve for 2 or more, the UZLOW pays for itself.


  • Easy, quick installation – 3 parts, a wrench, some pipe tape and 5 minutes
  • Significant water flow reduction = significant water and energy savings
  • Easy operation


  • Plastic switch/handle is somewhat flimsy so you have to be careful not to torque it during installation
  • Children and/or short adults could have difficulty reaching the switch/handle

Bookmark and Share

August 27, 2009 @ 10:35 am
Eco-friendly Honeymoon in the Hay?

Bookmark and Share

When I read about these “hay hotels” yesterday I couldn’t resist blogging about them – especially since some of the quotes made me laugh out loud (don’t worry I will include them). In recent years I’m sure we have all noticed those little hotel cards asking if you want your towels and/or bedding laundered and replaced. Guests can energy and water by reusing these items (and in a big hotel the total savings can be quite large). It’s not a sacrifice to sleep on the same sheets a few nights – you don’t change them and launder them daily at home do you?

Heuhotels (‘heu’ is German for hay) have taken the concept one step further. There are no sheets to wash. In a romantic nod to the middle ages, villages in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been converting barns and other old buildings into cheap (as little as €8/$11), green alternatives to traditional hotels. The beds are made of fresh hay and proprietors recommend you bring your own sleeping bags and blankets unless you really want to rough it. Some provide hostel like communal accommodations while others offer more “luxurious” touches. The Zum Alten Marstall is located next to an 11th century castle so staff members wear cloaks and male guests are referred to as “Knights.”


Without new construction, minimal laundry and less energy consumption the hotels provide sustainable tourism in a back to nature sort of way. They’re generally in historic, scenic areas with access to outdoor activities such as horseback riding, canoeing and even archery. If you’re not sold yet, one of the managers said “Think back to when you were a child – this would be heaven! What’s changed since then?” She also touted her heuhotel as a great group retreat. “We have many important people from the city coming to stay here, all types that you wouldn’t expect…what better way for a team to bond than by eating together around a camp fire and then rolling around in the hay?” No comment…


The author of the full article (from CNN) also claimed the hay beds are becoming very popular for honeymooners. He’s backed up by a comment by Heinz Laing who runs one of the hotels outside Hamburg, Germany; “For lovers, there’s nothing more exciting than a night on the hay.” I guess the only way to know is try it for yourself…

Photos Courtesy: Zum Alten Marstall website

Bookmark and Share

August 20, 2009 @ 1:39 pm
Japan’s Hanging Gardens

Bookmark and Share

hanginggardensFukuoka City, Japan has experienced impressive growth over the years but failed to conserve green space in its city center. According to various articles I have read, the ACROS Fukuoka building was to intrude on the last remaining strip of greenery in the city center. Fortunately for Fukuoka’s residents, the developers hired architects Emilio Ambasz & Associates to design a symphony hall, office and retail complex that actually added green space to the city. Built in the 1990’s, the ACROS (“Asian Crossroads Over the Sea” – Fukuoka lies across the water from South Korea) was and still is a very innovative structure. Perhaps taking a cue from one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (rendered by artist Mario Larrinaga at right), the park facing side of the building is an enormous terraced garden/green roof with thousands of plants and walking paths to enjoy them. Furthering this design aesthetic are reflecting pools connected by upwardly spraying water jets that create a ladder-like climbing waterfall and serve the functional purpose of dimming the ambient noise of the city.

The staircases and seating areas are perched among the greenery and the higher you climb the better the views. This sky park contains 100,000 ft2 spread across 15 stepped one-story terraces. At the apex, you can enjoy 360 degree views of the city, harbor, mountains and river. THe gray wedge at the foot of the building has many purposes; it’s a dramatic entrance, provides ventilation exhaust for the underground floors and serves as an elevated stage that turns the terraces into a massive outdoor ampitheater. At the same time, this recreational area provides a refuge for birds and insects and allows people to escape the endless, bustling streets of the city to “smell the roses.” More structures like this in our densely populated cities around the world would be beneficial to everyone. The energy savings from the insulating properties of green roofs/”hanging gardens” and capturing of rainwater runoff are particularly beneficial in hot and humid climates like that of southern Japan.


greenroof-bookFor 40 inspirational case studies and beautiful photos of large-scale green roof projects around the world, check out this book: Green Roofs: Ecological Design And Construction. It would look great on your coffee table and as you can see at left, the ACROS building is featured on the cover

August 19, 2009 @ 1:37 pm
Dueling 6 Star Green Buildings in Melbourne

Bookmark and Share

The Council House 2 building (CH2) in Melbourne was anointed the greenest building in Australia when it became the first to receive 6 stars (in 2005) from Green Building Council Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star rating system. By my count, there are now 18 6 Star buildings in Australia. Impressively, 11% of Australia’s central business district commercial office buildings are Green Star certified which I would imagine compares very favorably to other countries – I’ll have to research it to find out for sure.

The scale has three rating levels; 4 Star, 5 Star and 6 Star, and points are obtained from 9 categories: Management, Indoor Environment Quality, Energy, Transport, Water, Materials, Land Use & Ecology, Emissions and Innovation. According to GBCA the 6 Star rating signifies “world leadership in environmental sustainability.” In meeting this standard, CH2 and Melbourne’s latest 6 Star entrant, the Melbourne Convention Centre (MCC) have some very impressive features.

ch2A 10-story city government office building opened in 2006, CH2 features photovoltaic cells, chilled ceilings, a co-generation plant and blackwater sewage recycling systems amongst other things. The whole project cost a shade over A$51 million, A$11.3 million of which went to sustainability features that are expected to have a 6 year payback from energy and resource cost savings.

  • Solar cells provide 60% of the building’s hot water supply
  • The chilled ceilings are part of an innovative cooling system that is much more efficient and more comfortable for building occupants than traditional airflow systems
  • The gas-fired co-gen plant will provide 40% of building’s electricity with much lower relative carbon emissions

Maybe the two most interesting features from my perspective are the “shower towers” that mimic ant-holes for cooling purposes while sprinkling water on passersby and the beautiful recycled timber shades pictured above that provide passive cooling to the sunny westside of the building while still letting in light if need be. Significantly more details about all of CH2’s innovations can be found here. Click “read more” and continue reading about the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Read More…

August 17, 2009 @ 2:56 pm
So Much for Green “Stimulus”

Bookmark and Share recovery

I’m sure you’ve noticed the burgeoning government spending of late. I know I have, and I’m not looking forward to the future tax implications. What’s most interesting to me about the alphabet soup of acronym spending and lending programs; TARP, TALF, CARS, the list goes on and on – is that the U.S. government has committed to spending so much of our money that it is actually having trouble spending it fast enough to have an impact on the economy. Case in point, the “Stimulus” Act. As job losses have continued piling up, I have continued to read about the lack of funds being spent and the dubious projects that funds are being spent on.

In over 6 months, less than 10% has been spent by the various bureaucracies entrusted with funding. Does this mean they will ultimately curtail the programs? Doubtful. As I remember, the stimulus was supposed to be implemented swiftly to fund “shovel-ready” projects and invest in our crumbling infrastructure. Apparently a $3.4 million tunnel in Florida designed to provide a safe crossing for turtles was a priority. No word yet on which turtle language will be chosen for the signage. Maybe even more absurd, $18 million was spent to redesign the website that tracks stimulus spending. Obama should have called me, I would have done the work for not a penny over $5 million. Even less if he let me outsource the coding (Source for project figures: CNN Op-Ed).

How about that infrastructure? According to an AP analysis, “Of the 2,476 bridges scheduled to receive stimulus money so far, nearly half have passed inspections with high marks, according to federal data. Those 1,123 sound bridges received such high inspection ratings that they normally would not qualify for federal bridge money, yet they will share in more than $1.2 billion in stimulus money. In all, 1,286 deficient or obsolete bridges are expected to share $2.2 billion in stimulus money for repairs…But that’s less than 1 percent of the more than 150,000 bridges nationwide that engineers have labeled deficient or obsolete.”


Clearly, the results thus far have been less than stellar, which leads me to the equally poor showing of the green components to the stimulus. Millions of green jobs have not arrived and they are not immediately on the way either because less than half of 1% of the green “stimulus” has been spent. Prospective programs were included in the allocations of $111 billion for infrastructure (including mass transit) and $8 billion for energy. According to Green Building Law, “…a total of $33.2 million has been paid out for green stimulus programs, and an additional $307 million in public transit dollars, of the allocated $119 BILLION.  That is .28% of the total allocation…” In maybe the most dramatic example, the General Services Administration (GSA) was awarded a budget of $4,500,000,000, yes $4.5 BILLION for “High Performance Green Buildings” and so far they have spent a shade over $230,000. Hey guys and gals at the GSA, take a look at my products page and give me a call would you?

The big lesson in all of this: incentives for private investment are more efficient than than public spending. Take note, health care debaters…

Bookmark and Share

August 15, 2009 @ 1:35 pm
Geothermal Heat Pumps Save Energy and Suction Taxes

Bookmark and Share

Geothermal heat pumps (aka GeoExchange, earth-coupled, ground-source or water-source heat pumps) are a remarkable, yet simple green technology that has been around for about 60 years. Anyone that’s visited a cave to see stalactites/stalagmites or do some rugged camping will remember the constant temperature that is cooler in summer and warmer in winter than at the surface. The ground is an efficient insulator, and depending on latitude, underground temperatures range from 45°F (7°C) to 75°F (21°C) year-round despite seasonal extremes at the surface. Heat pumps are able to take advantage of these temperature gradients for heating and cooling purposes, but how?

There is a detailed explanation here, I will summarize. Traditional heat pumps transfer heat utilizing a refrigerant that is acted on by an exchange medium (air in a standard A/C unit or liquid in a geothermal heat pump). The refrigerant absorbs heat and is compressed into a high temperature, high pressure liquid for heating purposes or allowed to expand into a low temperature, low pressure gas for cooling purposes. In winter, heat pumps pull heat from the air to be circulated in the home and during summer they take heat from inside and push it into the air. Significant amounts of electricity are used in this process because temperature extremes need to be overcome and air is an inefficient heat transfer medium. On the other hand, the liquid water or antifreeze solution of geothermal heat pumps is 30% more efficient than air. In summer, heat is pulled from the building and deposited in the much cooler earth very efficiently. In winter, the constant, relatively warm temperature of the earth provides much more than heat than the air so much less compression (and therefore less energy consumption) is needed vs. a conventional system. 


In fact, according to U.S. Department of Energy studies, geothermal provides system efficiencies of 300-600% on the coldest winter nights while air-source systems can reach only 175-250%. Integrated systems can handle all of your heating, cooling and hot water needs year-round. The result is significant energy savings over your current costs of electricity, heating oil, etc. While installation of geothermal systems costs more upfront, these energy savings cover the additional costs over 5-10 years. 50,000 units are now installed annually in the U.S. alone. The benefits outlined by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are listed below: Read More…

August 12, 2009 @ 10:23 am
New Most Popular Post

RewardAugust’s “Got Water? Wait Until 2025…” post has been quickly riding up the ranks and just became my 3rd most popular post this week, surpassing my July post on Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw. You can link to my most popular posts at left; at its current pace, the water post may well reach 1st place. The water post permalink is here. You can also read it on my featured tab along with my first feature article on Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (or click “UAE’s Supergreen City” permalink here).

August 11, 2009 @ 2:14 pm
It Pays to Install Green Roofs (Part 2)

Bookmark and Share

Yesterday in part 1, I talked about the tax incentive provided for green roof construction in NYC. Today I will touch on a variety of other existing and proposed programs around the U.S.A. This is likely not an exhaustive list so feel free to comment and provide links to additional information. I discussed Toronto’s program in this previous post.

Existing Programs 

Chicago: Developments with green roofs receive fast track permitting and the city provides a number of favorable financing options. A grant program offers up to 50% of the cost or $100,000, whichever is greater and the green roof must cover 50% of the net roof area of the building.


Los Angeles: Beginning on July 1, 2002, all City of Los Angeles building projects 7,500 ft2 (700 m2) or larger were required to meet LEED “Certified” standards. Green roofs can contribute several LEED points.  

Minneapolis: They charge stormwater usage fees to commercial and residential property owners based the amount of impervious surface area on the building. However, buildings that improve stormwater management, such as by installing a green roof, receive a 50% credit against these fees.

Philadelphia: Provides “a credit against the Business Privilege Tax of 25% of all costs actually incurred to construct the Green Roof, provided that the total credit shall not exceed $100,000.” The green roof must cover 50% of the rooftop or 75% of eligible rooftop space. Read More…

August 10, 2009 @ 10:58 am
It Pays to Install Green Roofs (Part 1)

Bookmark and Share

I’m not even talking about the energy savings, cost savings and environmental benefits though. I’ve talked about these advantages on my products page but now I’m going to focus on tax credits. A number of places have mandated green roofs under certain circumstances; Toronto, Tokyo and Switzerland to name a few. Another approach that’s often more agreeable to building owners and developers is the voluntary opportunity to receive tax credits.

The program I’m most familiar with and closest to home is the New York State incentive passed by the state legislature last year. It offers building owners in New York state cities with a population of one-million plus (i.e. New York City only) a tax credit equal to $4.50 per ft2 when they install a green roof. Generally, this would cover about 25% of the costs (materials, labor, installation and design) associated with building a green roof. The one-year property tax credit is capped at $100,000 and the green roof must have at least two inches of growing media and cover at least 50 per cent of available rooftop space.

According to comments from Storm Water Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) in this article, “the environmental benefits of the legislation are measurable. Each 10,000 square foot green roof, for instance, can capture between 6,000 and 12,000 gallons of water in each storm event, the evaporation of which will produce the equivalent of between a thousand and two thousand tons of air conditioning — enough heat removal to noticeably cool 10 acres of the city.”

Just think what it would be like if all rooftops supplemented the green space in New York or your city. Despite its massive size and positioning as the heart and lungs of New York City, Central Park only covers 843 acres or 1.32 mi2 (3.4 km2). Meanwhile, Manhattan contains over 950,000 buildings spread over the island’s 22.96 mi2 (59.5 km2). Certainly streets, parks and other non-roof structures take up some space but all those roofs could create a network of green space that is multiples of Central Park’s size.

Tomorrow’s post will highlight other green roof incentive plans.

Photo: 416style via Flickr

August 7, 2009 @ 10:37 am
Malaysia Focus Part 2: GTower – First Internationally Recognized Green Building

 Bookmark and Share


Now leasing, GTower on Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) is the first Malaysian building to receive an international green certification. Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority has given it provisional status as a Green Mark Gold rated building. The building is a 30-story twin tower owned by Goldis Berhad (Goldis) and was built at an estimated cost of RM470 million ($134 million). It is a mixed-use development containing a 180-room 5-star hotel, 100,000 ft2 of general office space, another ~400,000 ft2 spread amongst 112 CEO duplex suites and numerous meeting rooms. Additionally, there is a private club, lobby bar/café, rooftop bar, other food & beverage outlets and a wellness floor with gym, yoga, spa and pool facilities.

The building is designed to maximize energy and water efficiency. According to Colin Ng, Head of Corporate Investment at Goldis, energy efficient building systems will cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60% (Source: The Green Channel). The IT infrastructure alone is expected to produce 30% energy savings. They installed 3Com’s Intelligent Building Solutions (3CiBS) products which combine state of the art hardware and software that optimize network capacity while reducing power consumption and carbon emissions.

After construction began, Goldis brought on a consultant to implement green features. This Architecture Malaysia article provides more details. Five areas were addressed with a multitude of technologies and installations: Read More…

August 6, 2009 @ 11:50 am
Malaysia Focus Part 1: New Green Building Index

Bookmark and Share

Malaysia is an engaging juxtaposition of the old and new. The Kuala Lumpur skyline is dotted with old mosques and mud brick buildings alongside a high tech monorail and newer skyscrapers like the Petronas Towers (briefly the tallest building in the world). Anyone who has walked around the city though, could tell you that Malaysia hasn’t been at the forefront of environmental policy. I say this because the streets are filled with motorcycles and scooters whose two-stroke engines belch noxious, polluting smoke (two-stroke engines are cheap but use fuel very inefficiently and require oil – the source of the black smoke – to be mixed in with the gasoline to lubricate the crankshaft).

A 2008 study however, showed the architectural/construction industry was more than ready to adopt green building practices on their own but they lacked information, knowledge and experience. To address these issues the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) and the Association for Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM) collaborated to develop Malaysia’s Green Building Index (GBI) leveraging Singapore’s Green Mark as an example. Much like US LEED or other certification systems, GBI uses rating criteria to award point-scores that translate into Platinum, Gold, Silver and Certified ratings. The scores are developed during the design stage and buildings can be certified one year after occupied and every 3 years they must be reassessed. The criteria are Energy Efficiency (EE), Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Sustainable Site Planning & Management (SSPM), Material & Resources (MR), Water Efficiency (WE) and Innovation (I).

Points Allocation

The GBI was just introduced in January and Malaysian leadership has been very supportive. In May, Works Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor said that future government buildings would incorporate the green building guidelines. It was announced in this article that at the end of July the government would be establishing a green technology council for high-level coordination among ministries, agencies and the private sector and key stakeholders for effective implementation of green technology policies. Keep reading about the government’s plans

The Pusat Tenaga Malaysia building houses the government’s Green Energy Office and is the first GBI rated building in Malaysia.



Read More…

August 4, 2009 @ 5:13 pm
Green Living for Fashionistas

Bookmark and Share

fashion-modelDid you ever oversleep only to realize that it’s pouring rain outside and you’ll never be able to get a cab crosstown to make your pre-fashion show fitting on time? Eh…neither have I, but a new rental building endeavors to solve that problem with green features in a traditional luxury apartment package. I’ve been doing some contract sales work at an office in New York’s Garment District for several months and recently noticed a large apartment building nearing completion on W. 38th Street. Upon further research, I discovered it is Emerald Green, the latest rental development by Glenwood, a New York real estate firm. More importantly, as the name suggests, the building is LEED Certified.  

I’m guessing the units won’t come cheap – I couldn’t get any pricing on them – the leasing office opens later this month. However, residents will save money on energy costs and feel good about their lower carbon footprint homes. As an added benefit, the fashionistas won’t have to go far to score big savings at all of the underground sample sales held by up and coming designers in the area.

Personally, I’m hoping this upscale addition to the neighborhood becomes a green, gentrifying anchor. Despite the density of fashion businesses, the neighborhood is quite dirty and unappealing. At street level, it is littered with numerous downscale merchants, vendors and eateries and crowded by fume spewing delivery trucks. One of the interesting characters passing through today decided to punch a payphone booth for no apparent reason…There are some diamonds in the rough though, such as Houndstooth Pub and Chef Yu. With nice, green homes, more are sure to follow.

Photo: José Miguel Serrano via Flickr
Model: María Cecilia Domínguez

July 31, 2009 @ 4:54 pm
Swedes Have Turning Torso and Human Heaters

Bookmark and Share

torso-zoom A few years back I was in Copenhagen over Thanksgiving weekend and took a day trip to Malmӧ, Sweden. I took the train through the Drogden Tunnel and across the Öresund Bridge which is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe (nearly 5 mi or 8 km). I set out primarily to see the Turning Torso, designed by Santiago Calatrava, one of my favorite architects. I also perused the Nordic contemporary art at Malmӧ Konstmuseum, saw the Malmöhus Castle and strolled around the beautiful Lilla Torg and other city squares and streets.

At 190 meters high (54 stories), the Turning Torso is the tallest building in Sweden, a landmark of sculptural architecture and a green building anchor of the eco-friendly Western Harbor redevelopment. This section of the city had become a dilapidated, contaminated and underutilized industrial park. City planners then commissioned Calatrava to design a statement building based on his Twisting Torso sculpture and the result is a marvel of engineering. A circular concrete shaft runs through the center of the building and houses the mechanical infrastructure. Attached to the shaft are segments of five floor plates that successively rotate to create the corkscrew effect. Meanwhile, the whole structure is supported by its artistic external steel frame. The bottom ten floors contain offices, the middle forty-two floors contain 147 apartments and the top two floors contain meeting spaces. My favorite feature is that because the top floor is a 90 degree turn from the bottom floor, the windows on the eastern side of the building actually tilt outward! You wouldn’t want to live there if you had a fear of heights…

torsoThe amazing design incorporates a number of green features. The building receives 100% of its power from locally renewable energy. The thick insulating walls and windows of the building envelope ensure efficient use of this energy. Environmentally friendly materials were used in construction and other installations enable residents to manage their environmental impact. For example, they can monitor and adjust their own heat and water consumption and use built in waste disposals to grind organic waste for composting or other uses. Additionally, the self contained community of the Western Harbor neighborhood and it’s proximity to central Malmö lessens the need for cars; a short walk away are the beach, green spaces, stores, services, restaurants, waterfront promenade and more. Continue reading for the enigmatic “human heater” portion of the post… Read More…

July 30, 2009 @ 5:04 pm
More Green Buildings Appearing in China; Grand Hyatt Dalian

Bookmark and Share

China’s recent ascension to industrialized juggernaut hasn’t been without major environmental sacrifices. I’m sure many have heard the statistic that a new coal power plant needs to go on-line weekly just to keep up with the country’s energy demands. Another alarming fact; 90% of urban surface water is too polluted to be of any use. Luckily, the 2008 Olympics put Beijing on the world stage and instigated change. The government’s 5-year plans require significant energy efficiency improvements from new construction and there are hundreds of green building projects recently completed, underway or being planned. This slideshow from Treehugger features several, including the Zero Energy Media Wall from my recent lighting post as well as one of the Olympics building complexes (the athlete’s village). dalian

Now, I’ll focus on the Grand Hyatt development in Dalian. Dalian doesn’t get as much press as Shanghai, Beijing or some other Chinese cities but it’s a very fast growing, highly industrialized port city in the Northeast (16.5% GDP growth in 2008). It is also a government designated “open-city” which enables significant foreign investment. Interestingly, I first learned of the city because it is home to one of German anatomist Gunther von Hagens’ plastination centers where many of the “Bodies…The Exhibition” subjects are prepared (very intriguing exhibit if you haven’t seen it yet).

Anyhow, Goettsch Partners was hired by Hong Kong-based developer China Resources Land Limited to design the over 1 million ft2 Grand Hyatt tower. In addition to 377 hotel rooms, there will be 84 serviced apartments, three restaurants, ballrooms and meeting facilities, a spa and fitness center, and parking for 225 cars. The tower will be situated on the Yellow Sea next to Xinghai Square. Energy efficient and structural features were designed with geographical and meteorological considerations in mind. Glass curtain walls feature high-performance glazing with integrated horizontal sunshades along all southern exposures. The unique triangular shape of the building minimizes the structural impact of high winds on the Dalian coastline and these same winds are accelerated by the tower’s rounded corners and are harnessed to propel wind rotors. The vertical-axis turbines envisioned are very quiet, bird-safe and should supply electricity to the building year-round with limited maintenance. The scheduled completion date is 2011. See this World Architecture News article for more information.

Bookmark and Share

July 28, 2009 @ 11:10 am
Containers Reimagined as Box Homes

sg-containersShipping containers of one form or another have been around for more than 50 years. “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” tells the story most thoroughly, but ever since the first recognized container ship voyage from Newark to Houston in 1956, “containerization” has been the keystone in global trade growth. Durable, standardized steel containers can transport just about anything and carry about 90% of all non-bulk cargo. Typical containers are 20 or 40 feet long and about 8 feet wide and 8 feet high inside. There are around 20 million scattered around the world on ships, docks, trains, planes, trucks and anywhere else you can think of and there is always a ready supply of used containers exiting transport service. These 10+ year old containers can be bought for about $1,000 – 2,000 apiece including transport or less if purchased in bulk.

Having been inside shipping containers (no, not as a stowaway, in a prior job we owned container leasing businesses), I’m amazed by the proliferation of residential uses I have seen. The modern, efficient homes that forward thinking architects/designers/builders have envisioned and constructed are truly spectacular. Containers are great starting point for green buildings due to a number of reasons: repurposing them extends there life indefinitely and prevents them from being melted down for scrap, they can be modified, connected and stacked in many ways to create dwellings with small physical and carbon footprints and there construction entails much less labor and resources than conventional buildings which saves money, energy and the environment. Continue reading about an innovative project in Amsterdam

Bookmark and Share  

Read More…

July 23, 2009 @ 11:47 am
The Swiss Green Roof Invasion

You should expect a decidedly international flavor on my blog in the coming weeks as I continue to receive visitors from around the world and am sticking to my promise to cover each originating country. 23 countries are represented so far with recent visits from Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, Singapore and Spain.

Since the 1970’s, green roofs have become ever more popular in Switzerland. Successful city pilot programs in the 80’s and 90’s have led to sustained campaigns and federal policies have been carried out at the city level. Basel, for instance, requires green roofs on all new developments with flat roofs greater than 100m2. According to a paper titled “From Pilot to Mainstream: Green Roofs in Basel Switzerland,” Basel had 1711 extensive green roofs and 218 intensive green roofs that covered 23% of the city’s flat roof area by 2006. Additionally, the latest campaign is expected to save 3.1 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually.

Extensive green roofs are non-recreational, contain limited growth plants, require little maintenance and are of a shallow depth (several inches); making them lighter and easier to install on existing rooftops. Meanwhile, intensive green roofs are often recreation friendly, more garden-like, require higher maintenance and are deeper (at least 8 inches); making them more common for new construction. To learn more you can actually go on a Green Roof Safari across Germany and Switzerland – no kidding.

I’ve discussed many benefits of green roofs on my products page, but one I didn’t mention was cleaner urban air and I can anecdotally confirm that Switzerland has some of the cleanest air I’ve breathed in all my travels (~30 countries). Another benefit is their potential contribution to biodiversity. Recently, Switzerland began to emphasize this use to conserve various plants and animals. The picture below from shows Zurich’s rail platform roofs which were designed to resemble a stony desert in order to conserve a rare, local lizard.


Bookmark and Share

July 22, 2009 @ 9:13 am
Mindboggling Statistics, Unprecedented Opportunity

Yesterday I came across a couple articles written by Global Strategic Management Institute (GSMI) that detailed and elaborated on the results of a comprehensive study of American building practices and energy usage done by PennEnvironment. The study was obviously done to promote Pennsylvania state government policy proposals on green building codes, etc. but the math is accurate and the numbers are staggering. As I touched on in my Norway post a couple days ago and I will continue to emphasize, buildings are intensive energy consumers – accounting for almost half of America’s energy usage and 40% of its carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, for the mindboggling stats courtesy of GSMI’s July 11th post – these assume energy usage status quo related to U.S. buildings:

  •  From 2010-2030, energy use would grow by 6.61 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs), enough to power 86 million homes for 2 years (note: quadrillion is 15 zeros)
  • Emissions of carbon dioxide would increase by 323.95 million metric tons; essentially equivalent to building 80 coal-fired power plants in our collective backyard.

Bookmark and Share Read More…



Copyright © 2009 Genuity Partners LLC. All rights reserved.