In spite of being battered and nearly stamped out by the anemic economy, the green building movement has not only hung around, but spawned some exciting, promising developments. Developments that, if fully realized, will have dramatic, long lasting influence on how buildings are built and operated now and well into the future.
Below are four green building developments worth mentioning, and paying attention to.
1. GREEN BUILDING CODES
In my experience, given a choice most building owners and developers will choose not to spend money making a project more energy efficient, or greener. I remember working on a project in Colorado in the late ’90s and being shocked to learn that the Colorado energy code (at the time) required about half the insulation compared to projects I usually worked on in the Pacific Northwest. Since there was no requirement to do so, the owner of the project in Colorado declined to accept the architect’s recommendation to increase the amount of insulation in the building enclosure. I can cite many more examples of owners deciding to pass on green building features when given a choice.
With the passage of the California Green Building Code (CAL Green) earlier this year, project teams in California will be required to design and build greener buildings. An early draft of CAL Green proposes a small portion of the entire green building code be implemented, and leaves most of the code voluntary. But the proposed requirements are significant, will result in measureable increases in building performance, and will very likely pave the way for more of the California green building code to be implemented.
On a bigger scale, the International Green Construction Code, being drafted using CAL Green as a guideline, could make green building a requirement at a national level. The current draft of the IGCC is highly ambitious. Taking a queue from CAL Green, I expect that the IGCC will be greatly reduced in its scope and breadth and distilled down to the most meaningful and measureable green building requirements. A ratified IGCC would be available for every U.S. jurisdiction to adopt and implement-something we could see as early as 2011.
And finally, the ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1 “Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings” has just been completed and is now available for use. Standard 189.1 was developed with code adoption in mind. Not a design guide, not a rating system, the standard was written as a set of mandatory criteria with simple compliance options. Focus was put on using recognizable code language and requirements easily enforced by local code authorities.
2. GREEN BUILDING RATING SYSTEMS
With the release of American National Standard 01-200XP: “Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings” (aka “Green Globes”) in the Spring of 2010, building owners and design teams that want a green building certification will no longer be at the mercy of LEED. Unlike LEED, which was designed as a rating system for only the very greenest of buildings, Green Globes was developed as a rating system for the all the rest. That, in addition to the promise it will be much easier to use and cheaper to implement, makes Green Globes a very attractive alternative to LEED. Here are some of the best features of this new green building rating system:
A Single Rating System: Unlike LEED with its confusing mess of multiple building type rating systems, application guides, and inconsistent requirements from one to the next, Green Globes was designed as a single rating system appropriate for use by all commercial building types.
1,000 Points: Project teams will have nearly ten times as many points to choose from than LEED.
Prerequisites: There are none. Teams merely have to achieve a stated percentage of available points in each area of assessment. Points are pursued are entirely at the discretion of the project team.
Non Applicable Points: If points do not apply to a project, they are removed from the denominator and do not count against the final score. For example, a new construction project is not penalized by having the building re-use points count in the denominator, thereby reducing the overall score.
Arbitrary Thresholds: In most cases, Green Globes rewards a project for actual achievement, no matter the amount. If a project is able to achieve use of 20 percent certified wood, then it is rewarded with 20 percent of the available certified wood points.
Open, Transparent Standard development. Green Globes was developed under rigorous ANSI standards protocol and procedures. These include requirements for openness, lack of dominance by any individual or organization, balance of committee membership, and prompt consideration of all views and objections.
3. THE BLOOM BOX
Cheap, clean, renewable sources of site generated power have been the most sought after, and the most elusive, of all green building strategies. Decades-long promises of highly efficient and inexpensive photovoltaic solar panels have failed to materialize. Wind power has done only slightly better at bringing cost effective, site generated power systems to the market. Inexpensive systems utilizing bio fuels and gas from landfills and animal waste are years away from being viable sources of site-generated building power.
Fuel cells have been around since 1839 when Sir William Robert Grove, a Welsh judge, inventor and physicist, invented the first fuel cell by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of an electrolyte to produced electricity and water. NASA has used fuel cells since the 1960s to provide electrical power to astronauts aboard the Gemini and Apollo space capsules. Today, the Space Shuttle’s electricity and drinking water are produced with fuel cells. Many companies have been looking for ways to use fuel cells in buildings, and although there are some that are being used in this way, they are expensive, require hydrogen as a fuel source, and are not efficient or practical enough to be utilized on a large scale. This may change with the invention of the Bloom Box.
The Bloom Box was conceived by K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, while working for NASA to develop a machine that could produce oxygen for astronauts to live on the planet Mars. Sridhar realized that the process of the machine he designed could be reversed so that oxygen and many types of fuel gases (natural gas, hydrogen, methane, and bio-gas) could be combined to create electricity.
The big deal is that Sridhar claims that his fuel cell will be far less expensive than those currently on the market because it uses cheap metal alloys and can be powered with more than just hydrogen (which is an expensive, and difficult to use fuel source). Sridhar believes that within 10 years, a $6,000 toaster-sized Bloom Box will provide all the power needed for an average-sized U.S. home. Test installations at eBay and Google campuses, which have been in operation for 18 months, have proven that the Bloom Box saves money and provides reliable electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Current users have already seen a dramatic drop in their energy bills and estimate a pay back in as little as seven to eight years. A cheap, reliable, continual site-produced electrical power supply would revolutionize the way electrical power is used and distributed and result in a dramatic reduction in excess power production required to compensate for line transmission losses.
4. BUILDING DESIGN SOFTWARE
A collision between the green building movement and the building industry’s struggles with efficiency and waste has spawned new building design software that symbiotically addresses both. As buildings have become more complex and demands made on project teams to get projects completed faster and cheaper, the industry has struggled to deliver quality results. The design profession has for years been waiting for software that can be used to design and document buildings in three dimensions, thereby eliminating much of the inefficiency, waste, and inaccuracy of standard two dimensional representations. Building Information Modeling has finally been developed into a practical, useful tool to that end. Design firms across the U.S. are moving swiftly to adopt BIM and abandoning conventional 2-D CAD programs.
BIM has obvious implications for better accuracy and efficiency in 3-D building design but how does it impact sustainable building? The true power of BIM lies in the type of information contained in the 3-D model, and how it is connected. BIM is nothing more than a collection of objects embedded with limitless information that are tied together with the rest of the objects in the 3-D model in a relational database. Think of it as a huge spreadsheet in 3-D. As a change is made anywhere in the spreadsheet, the entire spreadsheet is instantly, and automatically updated as well.
Energy modeling offers a great example of how BIM will make buildings greener. Currently, energy modeling of buildings is a labor intensive effort requiring manual collection of data from a fixed design option. Many design teams can afford only one energy modeling analysis due to the time and expense required to conduct. BIM allows much of the effort to be automated. The data necessary to run an energy analysis can be embedded into the 3-D model objects.
Things such as the solar heat gain coefficient of the glazing, the R-value of the exterior wall assemblies, the boiler efficiency, etc., are contained in the model and used by energy analysis software to model the virtual building’s energy use. And because the information is connected in the database, changes made to the building as it is being designed-more glazing, deeper roof trusses, thicker walls-are automatically updated and available to the energy analysis software program. Teams can make on-the-fly changes to the building and receive immediate information on how these changes impact the building’s energy performance.
In addition to energy modeling, BIM will allow design teams immediate access to other sustainable building data such as embodied energy of materials, material attributes like recycled content and their quantity, daylighting analysis, natural ventilation analysis, and more. With the emergence of the new BIM software, green design just got a whole lot easier. W&C