DJC Green Building Blog

What’s missing in green buildings? Training

Posted on December 2, 2014

The following post is from Washington State University:

More than one-third of new commercial building space includes energy-saving features, but without training or an operator’s manual many occupants are in the dark about how to use them.

Julia Day recently published a paper in Building and Environment that for the first time shows that occupants who had effective training in using the features of their high-performance buildings were more satisfied with their work environments. Day did the work as a doctoral student at Washington State University; she is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University.

Julia Day

She was a WSU graduate student in interior design when she walked into an office supposedly designed for energy efficiency and noticed that the blinds were all closed and numerous lights were turned on. The building had been designed to use daylighting strategies to save energy from electric lighting.

After inquiring, Day learned that cabinetry and systems furniture throughout the building blocked nearly half of the occupants from access to the blind controls. Only a few determined folks would climb on or under their desks to operate the blinds.

“People couldn’t turn off their lights, and that was the whole point of implementing daylighting in the first place,” she said. “The whole experience started me on my path.”

Working with David Gunderson, professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, Day looked at more than 50 high-performance buildings across the U.S. She gathered data, including their architectural and engineering plans, and did interviews and surveys of building occupants.

She examined how people were being trained in the buildings and whether their training was effective. Sometimes, she learned, the features were simply mentioned in a meeting or a quick email was sent to everyone, and people did not truly understand how their actions could affect the building’s overall energy use.

freeimages.com

Green-building occupants aren't always taught how to use the building's energy-saving features.

One LEED gold building had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows to take advantage of natural ventilation. A green light indicated it was time to open windows.

“I asked 15 people if they knew what the light meant, and they all thought it was part of the fire alarm system,” she said. “There’s a gap, and people do not really understand these buildings.”

According to CBRE Research, the amount of commercial space that is certified as high-performance in energy efficiency through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star or U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED has grown from 5.6 percent of commercial space in 2005 to 39.3 percent at the end of 2013.

Yet in many cases, the corporate culture of energy use in buildings hasn’t caught up. While at home our mothers nagged us to turn off the lights when we left a room or to shut the door because “you don’t live in a barn,” office culture has often ignored and even discouraged common-sense energy saving.

Day found that making the best use of a highly efficient building means carefully creating a culture focused on conservation. In buildings with an energy-focused culture, workers were engaged, participated and were satisfied with their building environment.

“If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment,” she said.

She is working to develop an energy lab and would like to develop occupant training programs to take advantage of high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” she said. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments. That shift takes a lot of education, and there is a huge gap right now.”

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When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED

Posted on April 4, 2013

The following post is by William Street:

Contrary to what Meghan Douris wrote in these pages in your Building Green issue (“Is LEED’s Future with Federal Projects Under Threat?” 2/28), the Government Services Administration is correct to seek opinion regarding LEED’s acceptability for public procurement projects, given the cost involved with LEED certification and LEED’s unfortunate discrimination against two respected and widely used certification standards, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).

Photo by Luciano Burtini/sxc.hu

There's more than one forest certification system.

The fact that GSA is seeking input on their use of green building rating systems is a positive development. This will hopefully shed light on the problem with GSA’s use of the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. USGBC, unlike Green Building Councils in Italy, Germany or Australia -- all of which recognize the importance of all forest certification systems -- has been victimized by narrow interest groups seeking to push their own political agenda at the expense of actual science-based energy efficiency, local jobs, competitiveness and inclusivity. USGBC has never publicly explained why they only reward wood certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard.

PEFC, the world’s largest and only purely non-profit forest certification system -- which includes SFI and ATFS,  both of which are independent, non-profit, charitable organizations -- has proven on every continent and in all governmental procurement and independent and neutral evaluations that it is a superior system to FSC. PEFC affiliates are recognized by Green Building Councils in many other countries, but not by the USGBC. Thus, wood products from SFI and ATFS are placed at a market disadvantage while forest products from FSC (many of which are sourced outside of the U.S.) are accepted, even though FSC‘s for-profit structure is not recognized by, and fails to comply with, the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and ISO guidelines.

In the U.S., SFI and ATFS are the only forest certification systems to require and enforce compliance with the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards for forest workers.  Strong labor standards mean safer work, better wages, sustainable jobs and viable rural communities that depend on them.

Rather than attempt to create a monopoly for FSC, USGBC should do what practically every other national and third-party system has done: recognize and reward wood from all sustainably managed forests. To do otherwise is to promote deforestation in the tropics and the conversion of sustainably managed forests here into resorts, golf courses and second homes.

It’s well past time to stop fighting over the well-managed forests of North America and start speaking with a single voice to send a unified message to the rest of the world: that green buildings benefit from using wood from all sustainably managed forests. By speaking with a single voice, Americans can truly be a force against deforestation and the conversion of forests to other land uses.

William Street is director of the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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Bill Gates says technology holds the key to energy, climate. What do you think?

Posted on May 11, 2011

When we're talking about solving big problems there is a division between those who believe new technology will hold the key and those who believe things need to change now, even if we don't have the perfect tools. That division was highlighted at yesterday's talk on energy and climate by Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke at Climate Solutions' annual breakfast May 10. Our story on his talk is here and there are

Image courtesy The Seattle Times
multiple other articles and accounts on the web. Gates basically said what he's said before: we need major technological breakthroughs to solve climate and energy problems. To do this, he said the government needs to spend more than double the amount it currently does on research and development, and the private markets will follow. By breakthroughs, he means far-out technologies that will create a zero or very low carbon energy source. More money should be spent on renewable energy, carbon sequestration and nuclear energy, he said.

“The thing I think is the most under-invested in is basic R&D,” he said. “That's something only the government will do. Over the next couple of decades, we have to invent and pilot, and in the decades after that we have to deploy in an unbelievably fast way, these sources.”

But even during the breakfast, this division between work in the future and work now was felt. Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, spoke before Gates did. He said technological silver bullets are great but "it's often not best to wait for superman. It's sometimes better to figure out how to take practical and profitable real time solutions where we live."

Image courtesy Climate Solutions
Allen has a guest post on the Climate Solutions Blog here, if you're further interested in his ideas. To watch Gates' TED talk on a similar topic, go here.

Later, in a briefing with journalists, KC Golden, Climate Solutions' policy director, said he doesn't think all our problems will be solved by public funding. Public money isn’t a panacea, he said, but it is a critical piece of the solution for the energy sector “because the way the regulated economy works starves the energy sector of R&D money and innovation.”

If we are going to solve the energy and climate problems, what do you think we should be concentrating on - innovation or current work? Of course, the true solution would and most likely will (if we find it) include both. But which area do you think deserves more attention?

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Majora Carter asks us to celebrate little achievements

Posted on April 28, 2011

Last night's keynote presentation was a world away from last year's. As depressing as James Kunstler's talk was at Living Future 2010, Majora Carter's was uplifting and inspiring. I figure that is the point.

In a very casual manner, Carter explained her history with the South Bronx and how she came

majora
to be active in its revitalization. Really, it all came down to a dog. Carter was walking her dog Xena through her neighborhood when the dog led her past a pile of waste and crack viles to the Bronx River, which Carter didn't really know existed. Seeing the river's natural beauty so close to her home started Carter on a journey to develop green space along the river, and towards an effort of empowering people at the local level to care about their environment.

One big problem, she said, is that most people, especially those of color, view environmentalism as an upper middle class white movement that has "absolutely nothing" to do with them. Carter said part of her mission is to teach that "the environment" is really something everyone interacts with on a daily basis and that green elements can put money back in your pocket. In her talk, Carter championed green infrastructure such as green roof, and urban agriculture efforts.

Like the tea party, Carter said she believes in a smaller government. However, she believes this can be achieved by creating jobs for society's most expensive citizens. The generationally impoverished, she said, or people who are in and out of jail or people coming back from war, use the most social services dollars. If these people had something to look forward to and some way to start paying the bills, less would return to jail or to patterns that use social service dollars. Carter works on such programs in her community, and supports others across the country.

For example, she referenced a program in Chicago called Sweet Beginnings led by Brenda Palms-Barber that teaches ex-offenders to harvest honey from beehives, turn it into skin products and market it. A year in jail costs $60,000. The national recidivism rate is 65 percent Carter said, and this program's recidivism rate is 4.5 percent. The program saves society money while creating empowered workers, and keeping dollars from product sales in the local economy.

"Really all any of us want is something to look forward to," she said. " There’s Bronxe’s all over the place."

Carter said everyone can further this type of goal by asking how your work, products or even material choice can create social well being. Carter said things like making sure  you have local hire provisions can have a big impact.

She also said it's important to celebrate the small things. Because it's the small things that really count.

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$100 million class action lawsuit filed against LEED, USGBC

Posted on October 19, 2010

According to Environmental Building News, Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving, has filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Green Building Council and its founders.

"The suit argues the USGBC is fraudulently misleading consumers and fraudulently misrepresenting energy performance of buildings certified under its LEED rating systems, and that LEED is harming hte environment by leading consumers away from using proven energy-saving strategies," the article says.

The lawsuit looks like it is based at least in part on research by Washington's very own New Buildings Institute.

I don't know the details so I will refer you to those that do: first, read the excellent Environmental Building News Article. For a more opinionated article, check out this Treehugger piece. For a lawyer's take, go to Green Building Law here. If you read the articles, don't forget the comments. There's some pretty interesting opinions.

This blog has covered green building problems before. For our related archives, click the tag 'problems' below.

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Puget Sound Partnership gets in hot water with state audit

Posted on May 13, 2010
Puget Sound
This morning, KUOW 94.9 aired a pretty hard-hitting piece on the Puget Sound Partnership and a recent state audit of the agency. John Ryan (who worked here at the DJC years ago, if you didn't know), covered the story in a clear way that left me with one word on the tip of my tongue after he finished: "Wow."

According to the audit, the "partnership circumvented state contracting laws, exceeded its purchasing authority and made unallowable purchases with public funds."

I just spoke with Frank Mendizabal, spokesperson for the partnership, who said the agency has made a number of changes already in response to the audit but will continue "tweaking" its operations in the future.

For more information, check out the KUOW story here.

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Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically, will it be able to?

Posted on March 17, 2010

I have a story in today's paper on The Bullitt Foundation's proposed living building on Capitol Hill. The project is fascinating: it aims to create all its own energy, produce and treat all its own water and re-energize the neighboring park among other points.

The project has a lot of interesting aspects. However the one I'm most interested in is the water angle. The building hopes to break the mold by capturing all its rainwater off the roof, which will be held in an underground cistern, according to Colleen Mitchell, project manager with 2020 Engineering. Then, some of the water will be treated by UV filters, pumped to faucets throughout the building and used as potable (or drinking) water. Some of the water will be sent to toilets, which will use one pint per flush. All waste from the toilets will be sent to a composting container in the basement, where it will slowly compost and be used for the building's greenhouse. The greenhouse will run up the south side of the building with plants on each level. Urine from the toilets will go to four tanks in the basement where it will stabilize and be sterilized over a three-month time period. After three months, one part urine will be mixed with eight parts greywater (or the water that goes down faucets). That mix will be sent to the greenhouse where it will be evapotranspired by plants with nutrients from urine being used for fertilization.

I've got a rendering of what the system will look like here:

This is what the water system will look like. Click on image to enlarge.

Image courtesy 2020 Engineering

The system is incredibly cutting edge and will set an amazing precedent if permitted. And the 'if,' dear readers, is a big 'if.'

Unfortunately, the precedent is one of the things that probably has permitting agencies worried. Last June, I attended a forum on water attended by a number of speakers. One of them was Steve Deem of the state health department. Going off the water grid is great in theory, he said, but architects, developers and engineers don't generally understand that if a project provides water, it is responsible for the building's water forever. That raises a lot of health and safety issues.

Secondly, there's the issue of charges and rates. King County is in the process of building Brightwater, its massive, multi-million-dollar water treatment plant outside Woodinville. Brightwater gets paid for in part by capacity charges, fees and rates from users. From what I've heard from multiple sources, projects are welcome to go off the water grid, as long as they pay those hook up fees and charges. For most developers, this is a turnoff because they are paying twice - once for the water system and once for the hook up. Bullitt has yet to finalize these details with the county. Chris Rogers of development partner Point32 said, "There will be conversations with the county and other players to understand what sort of levies there will be for something that we don't use."

At that same June meeting, Christie True, director of the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, said it's a social justice issue. If developers don't pay for wastewater infrastructure, people with fewer resources will end up paying more.

Last April, Ray Hoffman, acting director of Seattle Public Utilities, said on-site water treatment is not moving forward in the Puget Sound area because of bureaucracy. "There are institutional barriers on both the public and private side that prevent things that are readily available from getting off the shelf and into the ground."

These are some of the issues Bullitt faces in trying to go off the water grid. I don't envy them the process but it will be an amazing achievement if they succeed.

When I asked him about the difficult code issues he was about to face, Denis Hayes of Bullitt said all agencies are on the same page in wanting to see innovative projects happen. "We’ll take that robust optimism until somebody in authority says we shouldn't have it."

What do you think, readers? Just how important is this project and what kind of a precedent will it set? Will it succeed in getting off the water grid and are the health and social justice issues valid concerns? I'd love to hear from you on this topic.

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Local team does deconstruction Extreme Home Makeover style

Posted on November 19, 2009

If I were to take a poll, I bet that nine out of 10 people have seen at least one episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (commonly called ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover). I have now worked on two episodes and the most recent one was the first time ever in seven seasons that they have allowed a group to completely disassemble a home to the ground. I was asked to fly out and help deconstruct a 2,700-square-foot, two-story home in 15 hours, and that is exactly what we did.

Crews gather to re-make a home!
I won’t spoil the show by giving out details, but I can say that it opened the door to reusing materials in the new building and in the surrounding neighborhood. That my friends, is exactly what Extreme Home Makeover did! They immediately found ways to incorporate the materials in their plans and much of the lumber will never be more than a block away from the property. It is true that the show has its critics. Many of them complain to me that it glorifies demolition. If I had a TV, I would watch the show on a regular basis, but the few episodes I have seen do make demolition look ‘fun’.

Hopefully, we have opened the door for them on alternatives to demolition. Each show I watch seems to have a growing focus on green building and this might be the next step for them. Given the tight timeframe allowed for demolition and site work until now, they really haven’t had a choice. Our industry offered them no solutions given their extreme situation. For me, this is all part of the path toward making green building a mainstream choice, systematically pursuing projects that we couldn’t touch years ago, until we become an option for anyone interested. Over the last 16+ years working in the green building field, I have realized that my work consists of one part natural resource conservation, one part reduced energy demand and two parts basically helping people. This is the path of Extreme Home Makeover, so keep watching and encouraging them to raise the bar higher, because that is exactly, what I plan to do.

A picture of the home\'s foundation

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Washington Policy Center: green buildings get mixed results

Posted on October 22, 2009

The Washington Policy Center, a conservative think-tank whose mission is to "improve lives through market solutions," has issued a report on green buildings in the state that has less than stellar results.

However, the center is not totally a nonpartial organization. And the study, which is not even a full four

You should know better!
pages long, seems shaky to me in that references cited include articles that are not cited, single emails, and only a small handful of case studies that really don't provide the reader with much information with which to make an informed decision. It also is very narrow in scope and only looks at a few types of projects.

Nevertheless, the points brought up in the study are of interest. The gist is that performance-based contracting in Washington State and schools that use the Washington State High Performance Schools Protocol have mixed results. Some save energy, some don't and many have long pay back times. Additionally, the study says there is often not enough information available to track how much energy is actually being saved.

These are important issues that need to be studied on the local level. But I'd like to see them investigated in a more thorough and scientific manner.

The study also proposes three solutions to the problem: rigorous audits of green projects, local control and flexibility as state mandated "cookie-cutter" approaches don't always work, and accountability in holding agencies and contractors responsible for project results. The study says "if there are no costs for the agency or contractor for failing to achieve energy savings targets, there is unlikely to be strict enforcement or effective auditing. Without those elements, savings are not likely to materialize."

In general, these suggestions do make sense. Green projects should be audited and if something is wrong with the design, that information needs to circulate back to the architect so they can learn from their mistakes. Flexibility often has beneficial results (though I don't know I'd go so far as to change state policy on that front). And there should be some level of accountability for projects or team members that don't meet their goals.

Now, how do you think we should do this? I've heard that rough times (ie the past year, anyone?) are the best times to make sweeping changes to the way we work. But I find it hard to imagine legislators moving on requiring audits or some level of accountability in green building at any point in the near future.

Ignoring the study's flakiness, is the Washington Policy Center right with their three suggestions? In a perfect world, what would you want to see? What is the best way to ensure that green buildings are living up to their planned predictions?

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Ashworth Cottages: how much of a premium will people pay for green?

Posted on October 16, 2009

In case you missed it, I wrote a story in yesterday's DJC about how Intracorp Marketing & Sales had been hired by Bank of America to finish and sell the remaining 17 properties at Ashworth Cottages. Ashworth Cottages, Seattle's first LEED platinum housing project, went into foreclosure in August.

Last May, I wrote a post about what went wrong at Ashworth here and it has been one of my most popular

Image courtesy Intracorp
posts ever since. Most commenters said the prime problem was houses were simply priced too high. Judging by how they're being snapped up now, you were right.

When the homes came on the market, they were priced between $739,000 and $950,000. Today, they are priced between $399,000 and $649,000. Of the original 20 homes, 17 went into foreclosure. Since those 17 homes went on the market in a soft opening last week, eight of them have received purchase and sale agreements as of Wednesday, according to Jeff Smallwood of Intracorp.

In the article, I reference a few of your comments that said the price point was too high, even if they were LEED platinum. I wish I could have referenced more comments; they were so varied and insightful.

Today, Smallwood said the homes are probably selling at a little below market value and that the LEED features are mentioned by every buyer so far. But what does this say about green, expensive projects? While Ashworth is the prime example because it has had such a public story told, it's not the only one. A number of super green expensive projects - haven't sold. Or are being used for different purposes by the developer.

In my original Ashworth post, Anne Whitacre had a great comment that developers may expect green buyers to pay more because their utility bills will be lower over the life of a building. But if people don't expect to stay in a building for years, then they can't really take that value into account. This is why institutions, schools and nonprofits are often more likely than private developers to jump on the green bandwagon.

A few other commenters said they had been excited and interested in Ashworth but the price tag was just too much. How much of a premium would you pay for a super green house? Five percent? Ten percent? Nothing?

Similarly, if my price range is $950,000 I have a lot of options.  I could buy a great, old house with a lot of character for $650,000 (especially in today's market) and then spend $300,000 rehabbing it with super green features. For that much money, I could make a lot of green improvements that were functional and tailored to what I wanted AND I would be saving and improving an old structure, rather than sending whatever originally existed to the dump. Even if you recycle the majority of your construction waste, some of it still ends up being tossed.

A number of green builders believe that the market is ready to pay more for green projects and a number of studies support this to different variations. (There's this study on local green certified homes, this study on national commercial buildings and this one on four local examples).

But in today's economy, where is the line drawn? How much more are people willing to pay if they're willing to pay more at all? And would this be a different situation in a better economy?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, your response to Ashworth's situation and anything you know about other high priced green projects that haven't sold or have been in a similar situation.

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