But Mom, I Don’t Wanna Be LEED!

But Its Delicious!
But It's Delicious!

Remember when you were a kid and your Mom told you to do something “just because I said so.” Didn’t that make you not want to do it? But when she said “if you do it, I’ll get you some ice cream!” you were much more motivated, weren’t you?

Don’t tell me what to do; instead, make it worth my while to do the right thing – and then I’ll probably do it.

There was an interesting post a few days ago on the Consilience blog about local incentives and mandates for green buildings around the country:

I particularly like the Portland “feebate” program, which:

… allows the city to assess a fee against developers who have constructed buildings that only meet the state building code. But this fee is waived for buildings that achieve at least a Silver LEED certification. Buildings which achieve LEED Gold or Platinum certification will receive rebates for their accomplishment. This will be a self-sustaining program by using the fee revenues collected from those buildings which are not LEED certified to finance incentives for the green buildings.

The fact that the program is self-sustaining is critical in these cash-strapped times.

There are other approaches to incentives – for example, Sunnyvale’s new green building program includes FAR (floor area ratio) and building height incentives for achieving goals above the base mandate; for residential buildings, the bonuses include height and density, for multi-residential, and additional lot coverage for single-family homes.

What green building mandates and incentives are you particularly excited by? Answer in the comments section.

My “Testimony” at Menlo Park City Council Last Night

Menlo Park City Council Chambers Sign
Menlo Park City Council Chambers Sign

I went to the Menlo Park City Council meeting last night to provide an in-person comment on their Climate Action Plan (CAP) draft. The draft has been circulating for comments for a few months and last night was the presentation of the comments from council staff to the council. As you may recall, my friend architect Matt Harris and I [intlink id=”450″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]provided a comment on the CAP[/intlink].

I have never been to a Council meeting before, so it was a new and very interesting and very long experience. The meeting started at 7pm, and the review of the CAP comments was agenda item F.2. Section F of the agenda was the most meaty, but even so it didn’t start until about 9pm. Agenda item F.1 consisted of staff recommending that the council find the traffic impact of a new development on El Camino Real (Menlo Park’s main street) was “not significant.” This consisted of a 1/2 hour presentation by two staff members who concluded that the development did not require installing “No Left Turn” signs at two intersections. The builder of the project, as well as the residents in the area agreed with staff on this point. It still took about fifteen minutes of council discussion to eventually agree. One of the council members did note that it seemed like a lot of effort to go to determine that no action was really required.

Anyway, that got done, then it was Climate Action Plan (CAP) time. The staff presented a summary of the comments, along with a request that that the council direct staff on how to proceed. Staff’s recommendation was that the draft plan be cleaned up with minor revisions, and published as version 1, acknowledging its shortcomings as delineated in the comments. They also recommended that the council further direct staff to begin work on a second version of the plan, addressing those shortcomings for publishing, with a target of publishing the second version in less than a year.

After the presentation from staff, the council accepted comments from the public. This was about 9:45 or later. There were two commenters. I was first, followed by someone from the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens Committee, who recommended following staff’s proposal (as did I).

After introducing myself, I said:

First, I want to express my appreciation to the Menlo Park City Council and the staff for initiating the Climate Action Plan, and for soliciting and considering our comments on the first draft. (I was a commenter.)

I just came back from an energy efficient building conference in Germany. All over Europe they’re constructing and renovating buildings of all types, from single family residences to apartment buildings to schools to office buildings, to use 80-90% less heating and cooling energy. There are over 30,000 of these energy efficient buildings in Europe now, from Scandinavia to Italy and Spain, and the number is rapidly growing. They’ve avoided millions of tons of CO2 emissions. The city of Frankfurt, as well as other German cities, have committed to use these energy efficient approaches for all new and renovated municipal buildings. And the EU will soon be requiring all new buildings and renovations to meet the standard starting in 2016.

Energy efficiency of the built environment provides one of the best sources of leverage for municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I’m happy to say that the initial version of the Menlo Park Climate Action plan suggests providing incentives for energy efficiency of new and renovated buildings. Future versions of the plan should then include specific performance standards for which incentives will be offered or specify that the planning commission will provide such a list, as well as the associated incentives.

Simply specifying a certain number of points on a LEED assessment or on a Green Point Rating assessment does not guarantee energy efficiency. Instead, I recommend the city specify specific energy efficiency performance standards, such as HERS, the German PassivHaus certification, or the TRNSYS building performance modeling tool.

The council thanked me and asked if I would be willing to provide additional information on these topics. I assured them I would. Then I sat down.

I stayed for another half-hour while the council discussed the CAP, then left to walk home at 10:30. They were still going, and there was still agenda item F.3 to go, which didn’t look it would start until after 11pm.

It was very interesting to see the wheels of local government moving (albeit slowly).

Climate Change and Sustainability Thoughts From Around The Web

Zeus
A mythical character (image by Eddi 07, CC 2.0 licensed)

A handful of good articles from the past few weeks, on climate change and sustainable building.

I hope you find these as interesting as I did – let me know in the comments.

Finally, New Green Standards to Update Local Building Codes

Commercial Buildings Need To Be Green, Too
Commercial Buildings Need To Be Green, Too

The National Real Estate Investor recently gave a rundown of the existing and new green building standards that local governments are starting to mandate. Of course, LEED led the list, along with the new ANSI National Green Building Standard, GBI 01-200XP from the Green Building Institute, expected this summer, and “Standard 189” a commercial building green standard under development by a consortium including ASHRAE and the USGBC (creator of the LEED standards).

Driving all of the new guidelines is the desire to assist property owners and managers in meeting a groundswell of statutes and ordinances regulating energy consumption. At the same time, the standards will help local and state governments tap a common set of benchmarks to measure compliance with the construction and renovation goals that they adopt.

The article goes on to describe some of the differences between these standards, pointing out for example that while the LEED standard has been called out in many municipalities as the mandate for green building, its original goal was to recognize the top 25% of buildings, not serve as a minimum target.

On the other hand, the National Green Building Standard is designed from the outset to be minimally prescriptive, and to conform to local building codes. Paula Cino, director of energy and environmental policy at the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC), one of the organizations that collaborated to create the NGBS, says:

The standard is written in mandatory language that’s easily verifiable. You don’t need that LEED Accredited Professional or consultant looking over your shoulder, telling you what you need to do. At the first level, the standard is designed to be achievable by 100% of the buildings out there, and was designed so that we were not requiring technologies that are untested or not commercially available. We made sure … there wouldn’t be issues with product availability, technical feasibility or things like that.

Along with all these standards comes the question of how to get builders to meet them – should they be mandated or incentivized?
Some proponents of sustainable design argue that tax breaks, assistance grants and other incentives are more effective than mandates for achieving meaningful reductions in energy consumption and deterring harmful effects on the environment. Standards tend to encourage minimal compliance, while rewards spur property owners to seek higher degrees of performance.
The battle amongst the standards is going to be interesting. The article doesn’t even mention the Green Point Rating system from Build It Green or the Passive House standard. Of course, those are both more traditionally focused on single family residential buildings than the larger commercial buildings that primarily concern the National Real Estate Investor. It does seem, though, that this proliferation of standards, while exciting, will eventually have to result in a shakeout, leaving one or two “winners” that everyone can learn and build to.

A Passive House White House

What if the White House were a Passive House?
What if the White House were a Passive House?

David White, an architectural energy technical consultant at Transsolar, sent a letter to President Obama recommending the Passive House as a new energy efficiency standard:

I’d like to draw your attention to one approach to energy efficient building, which is called Passive House … the most stringent residential energy efficiency standard in the world.

White goes on to describe the Passive House approach in more detail, and ends with this call for a subsidy and/or mandate.

In considering how federal policy … one problem [with current mandates based on LEED, for example] is lack of assurance that the subsidies bring about real and cost-effective savings. Passive House certification offers a way through this: it ensures energy efficiency. … A subsidy of Passive House, or a US standard with the same level of quality assurance, would help defray added costs for early adoption and get a new industry on its feet.

This was recently reported on Danielle Sack’s Fast Company blog. Danielle went even further, suggesting that President Obama renovate the White House itself to Passive House standards!

I also found a link to a presentation David made at a conference covering some energy efficiency and solar power renovations he’s been involved with. The presentation also mentions the Passive House standard and shows some of the specific architectural details and mechanical systems used.

Individual Action Is Not Enough

Someone entered this topic in an online forum to which I subscribe:

The main problem with lowering the carbon level is down to individuals, to behaviour, to good citizenship and that is the biggest challenge of all… how many times to you see careless behaviours? how do you change that?

I just had to respond. I think this attitude is the best way to make sure that end in the end, nothing good happens. I’m reprinting my comment on the topic below, unedited (even though you all know about passive houses already).

My response

Individual action will not solve the problem. For example, my hobby horse is highly energy efficient buildings such as the Passive House approach. They use 80-90% less energy than a conventional house, at typically 5-10% higher cost to build. Simply building only passive houses and remodeling to the passive house standard for the next ten years would reduce the U.S.’s carbon footprint by at least 20%. In fact, because the energy use is so low, there will be lots of excess solar electricity generated, so our carbon footprint might even go lower due to the compounding effects.

But people won’t build them without a) a large-scale education campaign for both builders and home buyers, b) incentives for builders and owners from cities, counties, and states, and c) a compelling business case for the suppliers of the highly efficient windows and mechanical systems required.

Passive Houses “tunnel through” the efficiency cost barrier to achieve their benefits at a relatively low additional cost. But even though they have a great cost/benefit ratio, they’re not going to take off without those structural changes. That’s why, instead of becoming a builder of passive houses, I’m becoming a lobbyist for passive houses. Builders can make a difference of 2-5 houses a year. As a lobbyist, I can make a difference of 100-1000 houses a year, or more.

Individuals weatherstripping their houses, and taking shorter showers, can slow down CO2 growth a bit, but turning it around takes large structural changes. Yes, those are driven by individuals, but they are not individual changes.

I use passive houses as an example, but there are lots more in other areas. Same is true for car use – it will take structural changes for people to be able to live nearer where they work. Or for food energy use – most people are not going to be able to garden enough to make a difference in the U.S.’s agricultural energy footprint – that’s going to take big changes in commercial ag. Some of those changes are happening, and that’s awesome, but it’s not going to happen by you putting in a garden, no matter how good and useful a step that is.

How Should Local Planning Commissions Reward Energy Efficiency?

SATOR Magic square
It's code for something! (Image by Marco Fedele, CC 2.0 licensed)

As I discussed in my earlier post, [intlink id=”602″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]Code changes and incentives are critical for energy independence[/intlink], it’s going to be tough to change the energy efficiency of our building stock until building and planning commissions provide incentives to owners and builders to take those extra steps, and spend that extra money.

So the question then arises, what should these building and planning commissions incentivize? “Energy efficiency” is not a sufficient answer, obviously. In particular because building codes are all now claiming to be energy efficient already. E.g., California’s new version of Title 24 is our “Building Energy Efficiency Standard.” Indeed, a house built to the new Title 24 standards will be 20-30% more efficient than a house built to the old Title 24. However, compared to a standard like the Passive House Specification, or the Architecture 2030 interim goals for 2010, it’s significantly missing the opportunity for energy savings of 80-90%.

OK, I’m preaching to the choir on this topic, I know. But the question then arises, what should the building and planning commissions incentivize? Here’s what I’m thinking, as a quick first cut:

  • Passive House Certification
  • 22 points or more on the LEED for Homes Energy and Atmosphere category
  • X points (I don’t know the value for X yet) on the Green Point Rating system

My goal is to come up with several roughly comparable measures of advanced energy efficiency, any of which could be used to achieve the incentives. (Whatever they might end up being – I listed some in the earlier post mentioned above.)

I’m very interested to hear your comments on this list, and your suggestions for other additions.

Biohaus: First Certified PassivHaus in the U.S.

Front View of the Waldsee BioHaus
Front View of the Waldsee BioHaus

The other day I posted about one of the [intlink id=”565″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]first passive houses built in the U.S.[/intlink] I just ran across another passive house example – this one is the first U.S.-built home to be certified to the German Passivhaus standard. The house was built at the Concordia  Language Villages in Minnesota in 2006, partially funded by the first-ever grant to a U.S. recipient by the German environmental foundation Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU).

Under the guidance of architect Stephan Tanner of INTEP, LLC, a Minneapolis- and Munich-based consulting company for high performance and sustainable construction, Waldsee BioHaus is modeled on Germany’s Passivhaus standard: a highly-efficient building design (beyond that of the U.S. LEED standard which improves quality of life inside the building while using 85% less energy than comparable U.S. structures.

The building materials and mechanicals were primarily sourced from local suppliers, although a few components were imported from Germany. These were items that either were not available (at that time) in the States, or which were provided by sponsored by the funders. Here’s another link to Waldsee Biohaus information.

It’s fascinating to me that only a handful of these houses have been built here in the States so far. Each of the houses I’ve posted about uses 80-90% less energy than a comparable conventional house. Their build out costs are comparable to conventional houses in their area, and lifecycle costs are definitely less, based on actual measurements. The approach has been proven extensively in Europe, and has been shown to be effective in every country in Europe, not to mention multiple climate zones in the U.S. It’s simple and has just three key components. The European Community is moving to make passive house the EU standard.

But despite this, here in the U.S., where buildings are responsible for 40% of our energy usage, where we have Architecture 2030, a Federal mandate for zero energy buildings, and efforts like the California Public Utilities Commission’s 2020 project, none of our codes – state building codes, LEED, Green Points, or local codes, call out the three key components of passive houses as desirable, much less required. I think this has to change.

Your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.

Introducing New Silicon Valley Passive Homes Website

Silicon Valley From Space
Silicon Valley From Space

Over the weekend I put up what I hope will be an important resource in the goal of achieving 100% zero-net energy homes in California by 2018 – a new website for the Silicon Valley Passive House Coalition.

From the site:

SVPH is helping local municipalities to set challenging but practical goals for maximizing energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction in the local communities of the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California.

In particular, many communities are creating “climate action plans” which include incentives for the use of design options that promote energy efficiency and carbon savings. SVPH promotes including an incentive related to the use of extremely energy-efficient design and building approaches such as super insulation, zero-net energy, and the “Passive House” concept.

Please take a quick look and let me know via the comments what you think about the new baby (both the site and the organization)!

First Shot, or Swan Song?

Skyscraper
A commercial real estate development (image by MK Media Productions, CC 2.0 licensed)

The NAIOP, also known as the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, released a report last week “showing” that building green is not a winner in terms of payback. Apparently timed to coincide with a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on improving building energy code standards, the report found, according to a New York Times/ClimateWire article, that:

A 50 percent energy improvement beyond federal standards is technically impossible. A 30 percent target is achievable, but only by adding a million-dollar solar system that could take up to 100 years to pay for itself

In the same article, several energy efficiency experts raised questions:

Jeffrey Harris, a vice president at the pro-efficiency group Alliance to Save Energy, said these claims have a sturdy foundation in laboratories and in the real world. He pointed to the Energy Department’s data on high-performance buildings, as well as other databases containing information on existing buildings. Engineers and green-building leaders, he said, “are not breaking a huge amount of sweat in getting beyond 30 percent in code.”

Throughout the green building blogosphere numerous rebuttals started flying. On the news site for Costar, a commercial real estate information site, Andrew Burr wrote:

The study overlooked a number of highly cost-effective energy efficiency measures that are common in new buildings, such as light occupancy sensors and louvers that affect shading and heat gain, several people in the industry said, while integrated design strategies were not implemented in the models at all.

On the Yudelson blog, Jerry wrote:

In what is currently the world’s largest LEED Platinum building, the Center for Health and Healing in Portland, Oregon, engineers and architects were able to find savings measures that led to a 60% decrease in energy costs while spending 10% less overall money; this is not some computer-based study, it’s a realized project that was occupied in 2006.

Edward Mazria of Architecture 2030 was particiularly scathing:

In other words, NAIOP intentionally kept out of the analysis all the readily available low-cost, no-cost and cost-saving options to reduce a building’s energy consumption. This deliberate omission is glaringly apparent in their press release and in the NY Times article. In fact, they take so many inexpensive, energy-saving options off the table that it is impossible for the imaginary building to reach commonly achievable energy-consumption-reduction targets.

In one regard, you could say the NAIOP’s conclusions, when interpreted narrowly, are meaningful – if you build an energy hog building without considering the site, without performing integrated design, and using simplistic efficiency measures, you’re not going to get a good payback. What’s amazing about this, though, is that there are so many real-world counterexamples to the claims this report makes. It’s surprising NAIOP was willing to go public with it. And you have to ask “Why?” – in what way is this report in the long-term interest of NAIOP? Given the Federal, state and local juggernaut of energy efficiency regulations, isn’t it in their interest to figure out how to achieve on a mass scale what individual builders are achieving on a smaller scale? That’s the approach that keeps their constituents competitive, that creates jobs, and creates wealth.