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Department of Energy Finishes Largest Zero-Energy Building in US

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

The new Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo., will generate as much energy as it uses.Haselden ConstructionThe new Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo., will generate as much energy as it uses.

The federal government has just finished construction on a zero-energy office building, the nation’s largest, and is hoping that commercial developers will follow its lead. The 222,000-square-foot Research Support Facility is on the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory campus in Golden, Colo. Just over 800 employees will occupy the building once it officially opens in late August.

A zero-energy building creates as much energy as it uses over the course of a year, said John Andary, a principal at Stantec, the sustainable design consultants for the project. Thanks to various “passive” design techniques and technologies, the facility will consume 50 percent less energy than buildings constructed to current commercial codes, he predicts. The remaining power needs will be generated onsite from solar panels, allowing the building to operate at an annual net-zero energy basis.

Remarkably, many of the efficiency “innovations” are existing building techniques, some of them centuries old, that were developed to make the best use of natural light and the earth’s ability to heat and cool. By contrast, modern building design, based on the ubiquity of cheap energy, moved away from many of those principles.

“We went back to simple design techniques that were used before there were electric lights and before we had air conditioning compressors,” Mr. Andary said. “What you had then were narrow buildings that optimized the use of daylight and windows you could open to provide ventilation.”

The building’s east-to-west orientation and narrow 60-foot width will bring daylight into all interior work spaces. Typical office buildings may devote 30 percent of their total energy expenditures to lighting alone. To take advantage of the operable windows, one of the building’s many “smart” features will notify occupants in a message sent to their computer screens when they should open or close their windows, based on a comparison of inside and outside temperatures.

Mr. Andary described the walls as “concrete sandwich panels” – a layer of concrete on the outside, a layer of insulation and then a smooth concrete layer facing the interior office space. “This gives the same effect as an old stone cathedral where the mass of the building absorbs heat during the day to keep the interior cool, and then releases this heat when the temperature drops at night,” he said.

A low-energy radiant heating and cooling system will further control the interior temperatures. Rather than using a traditional (and energy demanding) forced air system to heat and cool the building, the radiant system essentially heats or chills the building mass itself using water pipes in the concrete floor slabs that circulate hot or cold water depending on the season.

Corrugated metal panels cover much of the building’s south exterior, capturing solar heat and funneling it to a concrete thermal labyrinth beneath the building that also serves as the foundation. The labyrinth stores the heat or can release it into the building when additional heating is required during the coldest months.

Much of the building is composed of recycled materials, including some from the runway of Denver’s defunct Stapleton Airport. Reclaimed steel natural gas pipes are used as structural columns. The lobby is lined with wood recovered from Colorado pine trees destroyed by a bark beetle infestation that has been unfolding in this part of the country since 1996.

The Department of Energy expects the project to get a platinum rating from the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program. Platinum is its highest rating under LEED, the mostly widely accepted green building certification. Although more expensive than conventional commercial buildings, the new building’s cost, $259 per square foot, is in line with that of other LEED buildings.

The Department of Energy is hoping that the building will become a showcase for energy-efficient design. “Once we prove that the building works, and we will be monitoring this very carefully, we think others will want to emulate what we’ve done here,” said Bill Glover, the chief operating officer of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The Department of Energy plans to share the building’s design with any interested party through the publication of a how-to manual at the laboratory’s Web site this fall.

Original Post by Jim Witkin, NYT

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A Blow to Home Retrofits

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Green: Politics

The federal agency that oversees two government-chartered mortgage finance companies imposed new restrictions Tuesday on homeowners’ ability to take advantage of a program that allows them to repay the cost of installing solar panels and other energy improvements through an annual surcharge on their property taxes.

The new guidelines could also make it more difficult for homeowners to obtain mortgages even if they don’t participate in the programs, calledProperty Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, but happen to live in an area where they are offered.

“For all intents and purposes, until cooler heads prevail or Congress acts, it’s very difficult to envision PACE going forward,” said Cisco DeVries, president of Renewable Funding, a company in Oakland, Calif., that creates and administers the programs for local governments.

In issuing the guidance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy and resell most mortgages, the Federal Housing Finance Agency was critical of the energy efficiency programs that have been authorized by 22 states and that have drawn $150 million in stimulus funding support from the Obama administration.

When a municipality pays for energy efficiency upgrades through the program, a lien is placed on the home. The liens, like other property tax assessments, take priority over the mortgage if the homeowner defaults.

But the housing agency on Tuesday characterized PACE liens as different from other special assessments that cities routinely use to finance sewers, sidewalks and other civic improvements.

“They present significant risk to lenders and secondary market entities, may alter valuations for mortgage-backed securities and are not essential for successful programs to spur energy conservation,” the agency wrote.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency said efforts were continuing to develop underwriting standards for energy efficiency programs.

“However, first liens that disrupt a fragile housing finance market and longstanding lending priorities, the absence of robust underwriting standards to protect homeowners and the lack of energy retrofit standards to assist homeowners, appraisers, inspectors and lenders determine the value of retrofit products combine to raise safety and soundness concerns,” the agency stated.

In letters sent to lenders on May 5, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said the energy liens could not take precedence over a mortgage but offered no guidance on how to handle PACE loans. The uncertainty halted most programs and led some lenders to demand homeowners pay off the assessments, which normally would be repaid over 20 years, before they would refinance mortgages or issue new loans.

The housing agency on Tuesday said that lenders could waive the ban against PACE liens for homeowners with existing energy loans.

But for new loans, it ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to direct lenders to tighten debt-to-income ratios for borrowers to account for possible future PACE loans.

And in a move that could affect a much larger number of property owners, the agency ordered lenders in areas where the programs are offered to lower the maximum all buyers can borrow to take into account the availability of PACE loans.

“It’s not just an effort to put additional constraints on the ability of property owners to participate in PACE but to penalize entire communities where PACE is offered,” Mr. DeVries said.

A spokeswoman for the housing agency declined to comment on the guidelines, saying that they spoke for themselves. An Energy Department representative said she could not comment on discussions between the agencies.

Over the weekend, Cathy Zoi, an assistant secretary in the Department of Energy, began calling local officials to inform them that the Obama administration had been unable to persuade the housing agency to accept the liens and that they should find new uses for stimulus funds that had been allocated for the programs.

Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York, said the Department of Energy was willing to insure the Federal Housing Finance Agency against any PACE-related mortgage losses.

“D.O.E. told me that they offered a two-year reserve fund to guarantee against any losses and F.H.F.A. rejected it,” said Mr. Israel, who has led efforts in Congress to support PACE.

The guidelines are likely to intensify efforts to pass legislation to permit the programs to go forward without such restrictions. In recent weeks, state and local officials including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York have pressed the housing agency and the Obama administration to resolve the impasse over the program.

Mr. Israel said he planned to introduce legislation to extend to extend government loan guarantees to PACE programs.

Original Post by Tom Woody NYT,
A Blow to Home Retrofits

The DOE Showerhead Rule: Someone is all wet

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

You would think that establishing a definition for “showerhead” would be simple. But, as the Department of Energy (DOE) is discovering after issuing a draft interpretive rule on the matter, nothing is simple when it comes to getting people wet.

Some showerhead background
Back in early 1994, under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 1975, all showerheads manufactured in the U.S. could have a maximum flow no greater than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 psi. The intent, of course, was to save water, particularly hot water and its associated energy use.

Over the years, plumbing manufacturers have gotten pretty creative about how people can get wet in their showers or baths. In recent years, the trend has been toward “multi-spray” systems, which have up to six “showerheads” (each of which complies with the 2.5 gpm flow maximum) and “waterfalls,” which aren’t really “showerheads” and therefore aren’t subject to the requirement (see photo: this Kohler shower system has 8 separate showerheads, each one complying with the 2.5 gpm maximum). These systems can use up to 20 gallons of water per minute, just for one person. And even though the actual installation number for these DOE-dodging plumbing fixtures is relatively low, they represent an important, high-end product for plumbing manufacturers.

Manufacturers erupt over new ruling
When DOE quietly issued a draft interpretive ruling earlier this year that essentially made these systems illegal, the water world erupted. The ruling said:

  1. “…a showerhead is any [emphasis added] plumbing fitting that is designed to direct water onto a bather.”
  2. “…the Department will find a showerhead to be noncompliant with EPCA’s maximum water use standard if the showerhead’s standard components, operating in their maximum design flow configuration, taken together, use in excess of 2.5 gpm when flowing at 80 psi, even if each component individually does not exceed 2.5 gpm.”

Bye-bye “multi-spray” and “waterfall” direct-water-to-bather devices.

Water conservation community not happy either
It’s not just the plumbing manufacturers but also the water conservation community and water conservation experts who are upset with the DOE showerhead rule. It all stems from the key word “interpretive”—both camps agree that DOE should have invited them to comment on this “interpretation,” which they say actually represents a rule change.

Here is what DOE says about its action in the draft rule itself:

“This draft interpretative rule represents the Department’s interpretation of its existing regulations and is exempt from the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. See 5 U.S.C. § 553(b)(A).“

In other words, DOE did not need to treat this rule as a “substantive” rule change, an approach with exacting and lengthy requirements for input from the outside. So plumbing manufacturers and trade industry groups are upset because they consider this change to be more than a little bit substantive and one in which they should have a say (see the trade industry letter to DOE Secretary Chu opposing the interpretive rule affecting multiple showerhead systems).

Water conservationists are upset for the same reason, but from a different side of the issue—they’re quite certain that manufacturers will manage to find loopholes. “This is a substantive change and working out all the definitions and conditions to make sure the language is watertight will take a lot of effort from a lot of folks,” says water expert John Koeller, P.E. “And frankly, lots of hard work has been done on this topic within ASHRAE 189.1 (a code-ready green building standard) and the IAPMO Green Building Supplement, work that is not reflected in the DOE interpretive rule.”

One source within the plumbing industry who asked not to be named said, “I know that DOE is way behind on its rulemaking and is even under a consent decree including this particular rule, but this is not the way to get caught up.”

Rule will harm the elderly? NAHB goes too far
Of course, every rule change brings along a few fear mongerers. I was flabbergasted to get a press release from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) entitled, “DOE Showerhead Rule Limits Choices for Elderly and Disabled, Says NAHB.” The release included this quote from current NAHB President Bob Jones:

“This is going to make it much more difficult for older Americans to live independently. Under the new definition, replacing a traditional, single showerhead with one that includes a flexible hose to take a shower while seated will result in half the water pressure for each—which would be too weak for either one.”

This sort of overstatement undermines NAHB’s credibility and the legitimate concerns the building industry has with the nature of the rule change. I contacted Marsha Mazz, the Technical Assistance Coordinator for the U.S. Access Board, the agency that handles accessibility issues for the federal government. “We don’t see it as a disability issue at all,” stated Mazz. “People with     disabilities will not use both showerheads simultaneously and all the combination hand-held/mounted showerheads of which we are aware have a diverter that directs all of the flow to one head or the other.”

NAHB’s e-release (and the NAHB letter to DOE regarding the rule, supplied by NAHB to BuildingGreen) goes on to express the same legitimate concerns expressed in the trade letter above. NAHB should have stuck to that line; the unfortunate title and quote lands them squarely under a compliant showerhead, fully dressed.

A bit of good news on WaterSense

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) WaterSense® program is merrily proceeding on its way to market its WaterSense labeled product and new homes, using itsspecification for water-efficient showerheads and shower compartments—a specification achieved by consensus. And it is not luck but hard and intelligent work that resulted in specification language that holds water and aligns well with the DOE draft rule, ASHRAE 189.1, and the IAPMO Green Building Supplement.

Original Post from Water Wise Guys, Building Green

Standard 90.1: Setting the Energy Foundation in Buildings for 35 Years

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

ATLANTA – While high-performance buildings are the obvious choice in today’s sustainability-focused industry, it was only a short 35 years ago that the first standard for energy efficiency was established, setting the engineering engine of sustainability into motion.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of publication of the ASHRAE/IES energy standard, now known as ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Since being developed in response to the energy crisis in the 1970s, Standard 90.1 has become the basis for building codes, and the standard for building design and construction throughout the United States.

The anniversary of the standard was celebrated last week at ASHRAE’s 2010 Annual Conference. For more information about the standard, visit

“Since its inception in 1975, Standard 90.1 has been widely adopted as the benchmark for energy efficiency in buildings,” ASHRAE President Lynn G. Bellenger said. “It has set the foundation for energy efficiency in buildings in the United States and we expect that to continue internationally. No doubt, 90.1 has been a game changer in the building industry, and that influence is even greater today than it was 35 years ago.”

IES agreed, saying it is pleased and proud of its long-standing association with Standard 90.1, which began when IES provided technical support for lighting to ASHRAE Standard 90-1975. By the 1980 version of the standard the IES name was associated with the standard as a co-sponsor, a role that was formalized in a joint sponsorship agreement dated June 25, 1986. That agreement to jointly sponsor energy standards has continued to the present. It states that energy conservation standards must address all elements of the building that affect energy use and recognizes that ASHRAE has the primary expertise for HVAC&R and that IES has the primary expertise in illumination.

“Congratulations from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America on this 35th anniversary of the standard,” Rita Harrold, IES director of technology, said. “It has been a wonderful personal experience for me to be involved with many of the 90.1 committees throughout this period of time in various roles – as an IES volunteer supporter in the early years and more recently as an IES staff liaison. Each committee has brought new information, new methodologies and new perspectives to revisions of the standard. Each committee has faced a series of different challenges in developing a consensus standard that achieves energy savings while remaining cognizant of the needs of users for a quality environment. Its success has been in allowing an open dialogue where technical opinions are heard and considered. The standard will continue to explore new strategies to save energy and IES will continue to fully support those endeavors.”

How has the standard contributed to reducing energy use? Figures show that, without consideration of plug and process loads, a building built according to Standard 90.1-2007 is 35 percent more energy efficient than one built in compliance with Standards 90-75 and 90A-1980.  One built in accordance with Standard 90.1-2010, to be released later this year, is expected to use less than half the energy per floor area than one built to Standards 90-75 and 90A-1980.

“Between the launch of Standard 90 in 1975 and the 2004 version, we reduced building energy use by almost 33 percent,” Bellenger noted. “We are striving to reduce that by a further 30 percent in just six years from the 2004 standard to the 2010 version, and that is a huge challenge.”

Mick Schwedler, immediate past chair of the Standard 90.1 committee, stated, “Using analyses performed by a third party, the energy reduction from 90.1-2004 to 90.1-2010 is currently estimated to be between 21.7 and 30.9 percent, depending on modeling assumptions. While the range is large, assumptions such as ventilation rates and which loads to include in the final percentage calculation make a big difference. In addition, some of the energy-saving addenda approved by the ASHRAE Board of Directors at the 2010 Annual Conference have yet to be modeled, with final estimates expected in the fall. The volunteers on the committee have done an amazing job.”

Work on the standard – then known as the Design and Evaluation Criteria for Energy Conservation in Buildings – began in 1973. The U.S. government’s National Bureau of Standards had previously started on a standard at the request of National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS). In 1974, NCSBCS asked ASHRAE to assume responsibility.

The goal of ASHRAE was to provide a method of designing the energy consuming systems in a building and to evaluate these systems so that the overall energy consumption could be reduced to a minimum while still maintaining occupant comfort.

Since being published in 1975, the standard has been republished six times, evolving as input from the building community was given and as technology changed.  Some 38 states currently have building codes that meet or exceed a version of 90.1.

In 2009, the 2004 version of the standard was established by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as the commercial building reference standard for state building energy codes under the federal Energy Policy Act

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Air-Purifying Road Surface Eats 45% of NOx Pollution

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

concrete road photo
Photo:  Flickr, CC

Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have tested pollution-eating concrete on about 1,000 square meters of roads in the town of Hengelo. We already knew it worked in the lab, but this was a real-world test and the results are pretty impressive: a 25 to 45% reduction in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) over the special roads. This could mean that someday our roads and other concrete structures could be used to clean up the air. How does it work? Read on for the details

concrete road photo
Photo:  Flickr, CC

How Does Air-Purifying Concrete Works
“Vehicle exhaust gases contain nitrogen oxides (NOx), which cause acid rain and smog. The air‑purifying concrete contains titanium dioxide, a photocatalytic material that removes the nitrogen oxides from the air and converts them with the aid of sunlight into harmless nitrate. The nitrate is then rinsed away by rain. These stones also have another advantage: they break down algae and dirt, so that they always stay clean.” (source)

Titanium dioxide is the naturally occurring oxide of titanium (TiO2) and it’s used in white paint, sunscreen, food coloring, etc. As for the nitrates, NOx would naturally break down that way, so it shouldn’t add to the problem. In fact, it might make it easier to capture them and mitigate the problem.

This material can also be mixed with regular asphalt for use where you don’t want or need a concrete road. It’s pretty versatile.

Dealing with Symptoms
Of course, it’s much better to attack pollution at the source instead of just putting a band-aid over the symptoms, but the reality is that it will take a while to clean up all NOx sources, and in the meantime, people’s lungs could benefit from this kind of technology. Call it a second line of defense

Original post by Michael Graham Richard, Treehugger

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How To Make a Light Bulb Terrarium

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Inspired by the terrariums from Emily’s post, 10 Ways To Repurpose Light Bulbs , I decided to make my own. Utilizing some resources on the web, I was able to whip out the above light bulb terrarium in about an hour, salvaging an old bulb from work (thankfully they’ve all been replaced by CFLs), borrowing some crushed rock from my patio, and finally a little plant material from the nursery.

Step 1

Lightbulb project

You will need some common tools, a screwdriver (regular) and snips (or needle nose pliers). Use whatever bulb you have handy. *CAUTION* Never use a fluorescent bulb for this project, no matter how cool it looks. The powder used to coat the inside of them is made from phosphor and is quite toxic. You’re also working with glass, so use eye protection! You can’t see mine because I’m wearing them. You should also use gloves or wrap the bulb in a towel just in case it breaks. Yeah, you can’t see mine because i didn’t have any handy. So do as I say and not as I do, got it?

Step 2

Lightbulb project

First, grip the little solder point and give it a good twist. You will free the brass contact and break one of the wires leading to the filament.

Step 3

Lightbulb project

Once the contact has been pulled out, carefully crack the glass insulator. The chips from this are quite pervasive, they get into just about anything in the area and they are razor sharp. Use caution.

Step 4

Lightbulb project

After the insulator has been removed you can see the inside supports of the filament and the fill hole. In the old days bulbs were evacuated of atmosphere to keep the filament from oxidising and burning through. Now days the glass envelope is back filled with an inert gas like argon. The keeps the filament from burning through and makes the bulbs safer.

Step 5

Lightbulb project

Use the screwdriver to break the fill tube.

Step 6

Lightbulb project

The fill tube could be saved for a later project if you wish.

Step 7

Lightbulb project

You can now shake the filament assembly out of the tube. If the tungsten wire is still intact you could probably find a good use for it. You could make another light bulb if your stuck for something to do I suppose.

Step 8

Lightbulb project

The bulb needs a good cleaning. This powder, is called kaolin and is pretty safe. You should still be careful and keep it away from your mouth and anything you might eat near.

Step 9

Lightbulb project

Mind the sharp bits of glass in the socket when doing this. If you have some stubborn bits inside of it that you can’t get to with this technique you can fill the bulb with a little salt and shake it about. this should scour the powder off the walls.

Step 10

Lightbulb project

There you are, an empty light bulb ready for a new lease on life

See original here:
How To Make a Light Bulb Terrarium

Bamboo Screens Shade Stunning French Passivhaus

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

karawitz architecture: passive house, bessancourt

passive house in bessancourt by karawitz architecture
all images courtesy
karawitz architecture

french firm karawitz architecture have developed a passive house in bessancourt, near paris, france.

the house is closed to the north to limit heat loss and opened to the south benefitting from
free solar energy. aesthetically, it is an abstract replica of a traditional house.

the second skin of the houses design is untreated bamboo which envelopes the frame in solid wood panels.
the cladding, which becomes grey over time, drew inspiration from traditional barns in the part of
the ile-de-france region where the house is situated. it passes in front of the windows to the north
and finishes by unfolding on to the roof. identical shutters are fitted on large bay windows to the south
to provide shade and light in the house, during the day or at night. photovoltaic panels on the roof round
off the program, producing 2695 kwh/yr in energy. the foundation slab is the only concrete element,
the entire structure is created from the assembly oflarge solid wood panels, which have been prefabricated
in a workshop.

when the shutters are all closed

the bamboo connected to a steel frame

the balcony

the living area


living area

the dividing wall…

can be opened up


circular holes provide views into connecting rooms


the corridor

upstairs living space



main bedroom

the entrance

in the evening

entrance and car port

floor plan

section view

elevation view

site plan

project info:
type: residential  – single family residence
location: bessancourt, france
client: private
building status: built in 2009
site type: suburban

Original Post from Designbloom

IKEA Turns Out the Lights on Incandescent Bulb Sales

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

ikea, incandescent bulbs, cfls, led lighting, solar lighting, energy efficiency, retailers, lighting, sustainable design

Housewares mega-retailer IKEA has announced that it will stop selling traditional incandescent light bulbs in its U.S. stores effective January 1, 2011. This fall, IKEA will introduce a “retro-fit” halogen bulb that fits in a conventional socket and produces warm light with a third less electricity.

lighting, incandescent light bulbs, CFLs, LED lighting, solar lighting, IKEA, retailers, sustainable design, energy efficiency

Despite dramatic energy savings, CFLs and LED bulbs have had a hard time carving out market share, even as their quality of light has improved, simply because they cost more at the checkout counter. “By only putting good options on the shelf, retailers can make it easy for customers to do the right thing,” said Jason Clay, Senior Vice President of Markets at World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

IKEA’s press release also points to its solar-powered lighting alternatives, which include the SUNNAN desk lamp and the SOLIG range of outdoor lights.

Although the Swedish company is notorious for making tons of stuff that doesn’t last, itssustainability efforts are the real deal. It uses sustainably forested wood, and was a leader in offering in-store safe disposal of mercury-containing CFL bulbs. Its current effort puts it two years ahead of the federal government, which will begin phasing out incandescent bulbs in 2012. The energy sucking bulbs are already banned in Europe

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IKEA Turns Out the Lights on Incandescent Bulb Sales

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