DJC Green Building Blog

Study makes a case for developing more living buildings

Posted on June 7, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

In early May, I traveled to Portland to the Cascadia Green Building Council's annual Living Future Conference. I enjoyed the conference a lot, and especially the very practical financial focus in several of the sessions.

O'Brien

Moving the needle on real estate investment was the topic of a Living Future panel including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Baker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis). They noted that investment in sustainable real estate seems to be "topping out" in the market at this time — at LEED Platinum. Their hope is to help the market cross that barrier into higher realms of sustainable achievement, such as the Living Building Challenge.
Jason, David, Stuart, and Theddi are coauthors of "Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment." The research study was funded by Bullitt Foundation, a long time supporter of environmental protection in the Northwest. The point of the study was to "provide evidence of monetized environmental and social benefits...currently not considered in conventional real estate model(s)." The authors hope to provide a defensible rationale for including these public and private benefits into investment models, appraiser methodologies, and supporting policies. This is especially important for U.S. real estate investments where ROI and IRR are the ultimate drivers of most transactions.
The report lays out the ABC's, if you will, of Ecosystem Goods and Services, the potential Ecosystem Services that Living Buildings might provide, and finally the opportunity to measure, monetize, and value those ecosystem services. The study takes a scholarly approach, a step up from the early days when we in the green building field had to rely more on reason and intuition, since we had little real data to base our assumptions on. (Not that reason and intuition is bad...it's what got us here, yes?).

"The Economics of Change"

The report also introduces the concept of integrated real estate investment modeling. From this layperson's view, it seems to build on the conventional model, rather than replace it — an approach that makes a good deal of sense. The methodology they propose will allow many environmental and social benefits currently valued at zero to be seen as economically valuable, and therefore marketable. In the next phase of their work, they plan to produce detailed calculations and case studies of the environmental and social benefits of Living Buildings, test the impact of these values of valuation models or appraisals, and create an open source prototype of the integrated real estate investment marketing tool to "demonstrate how environmental and social benefits can be embedded within a pro forma in an new building development context."
In addition to taking this tool out to the real estate development communities (appraisers and valuation specialists), they hope to provide a basis for changes in local, state, and federal policy that will acknowledge public benefits of Living Building development and incentivize it.
As Theddi noted, "right now investors are going for the low hanging fruit — energy efficiency — for example. We need to provide sufficient rationale if we want them to go beyond that."

Hear, hear.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Having recently sold her firm, O'Brien & Company, she is now focused on leadership work with those "still in the trenches."  For more info see www.emergeleadership.net

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

Posted on February 24, 2011

If you don't have a subscription to the DJC or don't click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month's excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year's coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you'll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called "Watch out for 'greenwashing' by service providers." Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There's this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There's this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called "Two Seattle projects set 'net-zero' water goals," which looks at the region's water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School's Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there's this article by Elizabeth Powers at O'Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I'll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city's role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

To support green buildings should codes stay the same, be reworked or be reinvented?

Posted on August 7, 2009

On Thursday, the DJC published an article I wrote on a new report that says codes are getting in the way of cutting edge green buildings. This, in itself, is really nothing new.  Last August, I wrote this article about the city's Priority Green program. In it, DPD's Peter Dobrovolny (whose last name is almost as difficult as mine!) said many projects consider innovative ideas but drop them when they realize how much extra time it will take under city code. However, having the problems and possible solutions written down in an actual report - well that is new.

However, the report. Is. Huge. If you dare to read it, click here . It manages to be very

The Rubik's Cube of codes
comprehensive and vague at the same time. It is comprehensive in that it studies code barriers across the country, identifies problems and makes recommendations. But because it is dealing with national issues, some of the solutions are vague in their range. For example, one solution is to "identify and address regulatory impediments to green building and development" while another is to "create incentives matched with desired goals."

I spoke with one of the study's primary authors, David Eisenberg of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology, this week. Essentially, he said codes are built incorrectly in that they are hundreds of ad hoc responses to problems. Codes, he said, should instead be built comprehensively to support a specific kind of development or project. Basically, he said the entire system needs to be rebuilt.

Ouch.

In Seattle, it can take months or years for changes (especially large ones) to occurr. Can you imagine what it would take to wipe out all the city departments responsible for allowing development to get built... and then to rework the system from scratch? 

Eisenberg said he realizes that what he's asking might be impossible. But even if it is impossible, by voicing the idea, he hopes to get people talking about it. Everyone - he said - whether it's greenies or permitting people or anyone really - wants healthy buildings. And our current code system does not encourage healthy buildings because it pawns risks relating to climate change and environmental degradation off on future generations.

What do you think about all of this, dear readers? Is there any possibility that our overall codes could be reworked and if so, what would you want them to encourage? Here in Seattle (where we are pretty progressive in environmental issues, at least compared with some parts of the country) do we even need to be considering reworking the system or do we need to tweak it? If you could totally rework one code or issue, what would it be?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Is it better to take a jet to work than a train?

Posted on June 9, 2009

When reporting on environmental topics, I do my best to avoid thinking I know the solutions to any eco problem. Here's why: environmental topics are tricky. Just when you think you know something is bad for you, it turns out to be good. Just when you think you've found the solution to a problem, it turns out your solution has a whole host of other problems.

Here again, is another example of that trickiness: a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, did a full life-cycle analysis of emissions generated by different modes of transportation. And guess what? The study found that in some cases, riding the train could be just as bad or worse for the climate than riding a plane.

Could this really be more efficient than a train?
Now even though I avoid thinking I know the answer, my internal monologue immediately did a double-take. Or, more clearly, said, "NO WAY!"

This article, from NewScientist via the Environmental News Network, does a nice job of summarizing the information.

The researchers looked at 11 different modes of transportation - like the car, train, bus or plane - and then looked at emissions considering aspects like building and maintaining the vehicles and infrastructure, in measuring their effects on the climate.

According to the actual study, "Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure, provision and fuel production required for support... We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 64 percent for on road, 155 percent for rail and 31 percent for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation."

YIKES!

NewScientist explains the train vs. plane item: passengers on the Boston light rail, an electric commuter train, were found to emit as much or marginally more than those on a mid-size and large aircraft. This is partially because 82 perent of electricity in Massachusetts is generated by burning fossil fuels.

Occupancy also turned out to be a deciding factor. The researchers found that traveling 1 kilometer on a nearly empty bus during off-peak hours emits eight times more per month than taking the same bus at rush hour. Busses with only five passengers were less efficient than cars, including SUV's and pick-up trucks.

Interesting, huh?

To read the study, click  here.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Janine Benyus at Living Future: mimicking nature and how it will save the world

Posted on May 7, 2009

Some keynote speakers leave you satisfied, some leave you disappointed and some leave you angry that you just wasted two hours of your time. Then, there are keynote speakers like Janine Benyus that leave you wanting more.

 

Benyus spoke last night at the Living Future Conference in Portland. Her talk was warm, personal, funny

and informative. Having never heard Benyus speak before, I now understand why she's considered such a big deal. The talk was pretty amazing.

Janine Benyus

 

The talk began with Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor (who is funny!!!), welcoming people to Portland. He was pretty straightforward about the general fear that you can’t make any money being green. Not true, he said: “If you take nothing else away from your trip to Portland, take this away: you can make money being very, very green.” Portland, he said, keeps millions in its economy because of its public transportation and green business.

 

Jason McLennan, Cascadia’s CEO then glowingly introduced Benyus, saying “I think you’re one of the most important figures in the planet today, period… I think you represent our species really well.” Not every day you hear that!

 

Then Benyus took the stage. She said the uncertainty in today's financial markets can be used to the benefit of biomimicry, building design and creating a better world. When cultural certainties disappear, she said, so does arrogance. She said the recession is creating a similar attitude that happened after the World Trade Center attacks – where “the world is open to listening to the next question ... As long as they’re listening, let’s make the vision as big as we can."

 

What can we learn fro, this luna moth?

 

In this same vein, she said building models for a place can be created by looking at how natural organisms in a location treat things like fire, wind etc. “Our buildings could have general organisms as their models.”

 

Benyus said she hopes we will be able to fly over cities in the future, and have them be functionally indistinguishable from the natural environment. That, she said, would be sustainability.

 

Benyus also plugged a tool she has been working on for the past year called asknature.org. The tool, she said, allows designers to ask how nature would fix a problem and learn from it. She also discussed how future areas of technology can be inspired by animal organisms. She and Paul Hawken, for example, are working on a new solar cell that is inspired by photosynthesis.

 

But in the end, she said, new technology or new laws aren't going to save us from ourselves. She said the only thing that can save us is "a change of heart and a change of stance towards the rest of the world."

These are just a few of the items she discussed. For more, stay tuned to a future story in the DJC. If you attended the talk, please comment below and tell me what you thought of it – or what you’ve thought about Benyus’ previous talks. If you didn’t attend the talk, I'd love to hear your comments. Is mimicking nature the future of building? How important is it compared to meeting netzero energy or netting zero water?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Study measures energy efficiency against economic feasibility

Posted on February 24, 2009

Earlier today, NAIOP national released a report that looks at the levels of energy efficiency a standard office building can achieve while remaining economically feasible.

The study looked at whether commercial development could achieve reduction

The Casey in Portland is designed to use 52 percent less energy than a similar, conventional building
The Casey in Portland is designed to use 52 percent less energy than a similar, conventional building

targets of between 30 and 50 percent above ASHRAE 90.1-2004. It compared results on a four-story, 95,000-square-foot, Class A office building in climate zones represented in Chicago, Baltimore and Newport Beach, Calif.

The results?

"Findings show that although significant energy efficiencies can be achieved (varying by climate zone), reaching a 30 percent reduction above the ASHRAE standard is not feasible using common design approaches and would exceed a 10-year payback. The study concluded that achieving a 50 percent reduction above the standard is not currently reachable."

Here is the breakdown:

Chicago had a 23 percent increase in energy savings at a $188,523 cost increase at an 8.8 year payback.

Baltimore had a 21.5 percent increase in energy efficiency at a $165,148 cost increase at an 11 year payback.

Newport Beach had a 15.8 percent increase in energy savings at a $169,898 additional cost at a 12.2 year payback.

Ouch. Those are long paybacks for most developers. But then again, developers ARE targeting these goals and reaching them. Heck, there are net-zero buildings under development! NAIOP's goal in developing this study was to prove that a one-size fits all approach does not work in green buildings, but that almost seems to holds true in countering the study, too. Though most of the developers who really push the green envelope, both in design and energy efficiency, are long-term holders of buildings.

Is that what it all comes down to? What a developer's business model is?

The study also said elements of a holistic, integrated design approach that could create higher energy efficiencies were impractical in the study's building prototype. The example the study gives is that a geothermal system requires an additional two acres of space, at least in the Newport Beach model.

To read the entire press release, go here.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Are heated, unvented crawlspaces really a good idea?

Posted on October 6, 2008

This post is by Gary Nordeen of the Washington State University Extension Energy Program.

Building your new house with a heated and unvented crawlspace seems to be the fashionable thing to do lately. Read any energy magazine, website or ask an energy expert and they will talk about the merits of this construction method. The question is, “Are conditioned crawlspaces better than vented crawlspaces in every climate zone including the Pacific Northwest?” I say no and here is why.
Do you really want this under your floor?
Do you really want this under your floor?
This issue has been discussed for as long as I have been in this business – over 20 years. The unvented crawlspace bandwagon really gained traction after an excellent study of a test house in the Southwest was published by Advanced Energy. To see it, click here and look under “Princeville Field Study Final Technical Report”.

Essentially what it documented is when you have a vented crawlspace in a warm, humid climate the floor framing is prone to rot. In this climate, your house is often being mechanically cooled (which also cools the crawl space), warm, humid air enters the crawlspace through the vents and condenses on the cold framing members. Eventually the house may develop rot and mold problems. I agree in this climate scenario that closed crawlspaces are a great idea to maintain structural integrity. Also, if there are ducts in the crawl space, any duct losses are now contained inside the building. Note the radon differences between the two crawlspaces and keep in mind that Princeville, NC is considered a low risk radon location by EPA.

Since this construction method is catching on nationally, WSU Energy Program received funding to test houses in our state to determine if this is the way to go in the Pacific Northwest. Here is a description of the results from David Hales, Lead Researcher on this project:

nbec-logo-sq-3color
“We've recently completed research on sealed and vented crawlspaces in the Pacific Northwest. The results are not yet published but based on our experience with four homes in Vancouver and four in Moses Lake that we monitored for about 18 months, the sealed crawlspaces (without supply air but power vented to the outside) maintained very stable temperatures through the entire heating season in the 55 to 60 degree range. The crawl should be kept negative to the house. Based on tracer gas studies we found that in the typical vented crawl, approximately 40% of the house air came from the crawlspace in the winter. By power venting a sealed crawl (50 cfm 24/7 in 1000ft2) less than 6 percent of the house air came from the crawl. Because of higher dilution rates and additional factors radon levels at both sites were less than 2 piC/l in the vented crawls but at the same sites radon levels were from 12-16 piC/l (EPA states radon mitigation should happen when a house has radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter or higher) in the sealed crawls. From an energy standpoint there is a small penalty overall for the sealed crawl that gets worse if you actually add supply air to the space. If a cold floor is your primary concern, I would insulate the floor and not provide heat to the crawl. Over the life of the building this would be the most cost effective way to maintain a warm floor.

Based on this research we are preparing to make a recommendation to the Building Code Council that would allow conditioned crawls under some circumstances. However, in most areas of the Northwest they incur an energy penalty and an added expense that I don't think is really justified. Some jurisdictions have been allowing them but a strict interpretation of the WA State Energy Code does not. I believe that if they are done they should be power vented to the exterior and should not have conditioned supply air directly introduced. I also think they should not use fiberglass batts for the perimeter wall insulation. Radon mitigation is a must.”

The power vented crawl may have an advantage from an IAQ perspective because as our testing showed, it is possible to substantially reverse the winter time stack effect and decouple the house from any contaminants that may be in the crawl. The problem with this is that it requires the continuous operation of an exhaust fan. If the fan fails and is not replaced, the IAQ may actually become worse because the air now entering the house does not benefit from the passive dilution that takes place in the vented crawl.

So it seems that from an energy efficiency and indoor air quality perspective unvented crawl spaces are not a benefit here but let’s not forget about the ducts. If you have ducts in a crawl space they leak - it’s just a matter of how much. Here’s a radical concept. Instead of moving your house around your ducts, why don’t you design your house with the ducts inside your house? Then duct leakage is not a problem. If you can’t get them inside your house make sure they are sealed well (with mastic, NOT duct tape) and test them with a DuctBlaster.
 
Finally, here is a statement we hear a lot: “I have a water problem in my crawl space so I’m going to seal it up and heat it.” 
 Fix the water problem or you will end up with a science project under your floor.

Readers, do you agree with Gary?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Looking for energy incentives and rebates? This may be your answer

Posted on August 20, 2008

This is a monthly post by different representatives of the Northwest Building Efficiency Center. This post was written by Margaret Thomas. 

As a librarian for several years at a library specializing in the area of nbec-logo-sq-3colorsmall.jpgenergy, I responded to questions about energy-efficiency from homeowners, and those responsible for building, renovating or maintaining commercial buildings.

Often, what they wanted to know is: are there any rebates or other financial incentives to help me pay for energy-efficiency improvements? Of course there are, but they are as scattered and unpredictable as mercury on a marble floor.

A variety of utility, local, state and federal organizations offer help. But their programs are buffeted by budget cycles and political whims—they come and go with the seasons. Who keeps up? The Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

The Web site comes with a dangerous URL: dsireusa.org. Get it wrong and you may be in for a shock. Get it right and you are connected to the single most useful and up-to-date source I know of for information about financial incentives.

DSIRE has been around for more than a decade and established itself as a central clearinghouse for information about financial incentives from every source. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the database is managed by the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. They contact program managers regularly and update the database daily.

Posted on the front page is a clickable map of the United States. Choose any state and you get a menu including applicable grants, rebates, tax exemptions, and loan programs. The site also keeps track of relevant rules, regulations and policies.

If you don’t have time to clip coupons or shop around for energy incentives, bookmark DSIREUSA. It’s sites like this that can make a librarian feel as useless as the Maytag Repairman.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Study says green = a better value, quicker sale. Do you agree?

Posted on July 2, 2008

Yesterday I wrote a story about how GreenWorks Realty  of Seattle crunched some numbers, did a little addition... and discovered that even in the not the best (to say the least) housing market over the last year, green homes in King County have sold quicker and for a higher value than their non-green counterparts.

GreenWorks looked at homes sold on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service small-gb.jpgbetween September 2007 and May 2008 that were "environmentally certified" - here that means LEED homes, Energy Star, or the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties' Built Green Program.

On average, single family homes sold for four percent more, 18 percent quicker, and were 37 percent more valuable per square foot.

To see more or learn how condos measured up, visit GreenWorks to look at the numbers yourself here. (By the way, this is some of the first analysis of its kind).

Now, recently a pretty high level developer in the Seattle area told me there was no point in developing office space that wasn't LEED certified anymore, because it is going to lose its value quicker.

Combine that with this research saying green homes sell quicker and for more, and logically, building green seems to make sense.

But there are a lot of challenges to building green, not to mention building green well. I could go off about the issues forever: some green systems are so new they are untested or people don't know how to install them, it's difficult to know if something is really green, green is "more expensive...." But I would rather hear from you.

If you can take a moment out of your holiday weekend, answer me this: What stops you from building green? If you work on residential projects, could these numbers convince you to try something new? Do these numbers matter at all and why? Do they matter in your neck of the woods, or is the information too Seattle-area specific?

And is it better for someone to do bad green design or do nothing green at all?

Or heck, you can just answer the poll at right!

I'm all ears. To read the story, press here.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter