Alex Wilson, Founder of EBN – Part 1


On Tuesday, September 28, I was in the audience at the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco as Alex Wilson, Founder and Executive Editor of Environmental Building News, gave a presentation about misguided pursuits in green building. He covered all-glass buildings, building-integrated wind turbines, and residential ground source heat pumps.

The post below consists of Part 1 of my record of the presentation – all-glass buildings. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine. I also added any photos or images.

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Today I’m going to talk about a couple strategies that get a lot of media play and that are widely perceived as being green. I’ll talk about three issues briefly – all-glass facades, building-integrated wind, and ground source heat pumps. Let’s dive in.

We do a lot of all glass buildings. There have been some high profile ones in recent years, like the Bank of America Building … can get some pretty dramatic effects with all glass … A lot of glass isn’t limited to this country … new tallest building is in Dubai … all glass in a desert environment … There is heavy use of glass in Las Vegas CityCenter where cooling loads dominate…

Burj Khalifa, Dubai (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We did an article in Environmental Building News earlier this year … starting thinking about this because there are a lot of high-profile green buildings that are all glass … What we did … we wanted to present some pretty detailed info, some energy modeling info, and we went to … Arup to see if they would assist in some energy modeling … They graciously agreed. Looked at three cities … four glazing types … several different building footprints … four glazing percentages … and then calculated the net annual energy consumption. For each of the types of glass, the more that’s added, the higher the annual energy consumption … The worse the glazing, the higher the energy impact. Where the building was located had a big impact, New York being more dramatic than San Francisco of Miami … Looked at peak cooling and heating loads…This is significant because this is a first cost issue – the size of the chillers and the size of the heating plants…

When I talked with Steve Selkowitz … he said there are some other interesting things you can see in [the results] … can get a higher percentage of glazing if you improve the glazing, without an energy penalty …

We also looked at the impact of the footprint of the building – most of the modeling was done assuming a square building … We looked at square, elongated, and even more elongated. The more elongated, the higher the cooling load. For an elongated building, what is the effect of changing the orientation? … there are differences, but not as dramatic as I would have thought … With the more advanced glazing, the difference was greatly diminished … … …

I mentioned the issue of all-glass façade using curtain wall design compared to a masonry system with insert windows …

Something else we can do to improve performance if you want to use a lot of glass is shading. This is the David Brower building in Berkeley … You can see they used a number of different types of shading systems here and were quite effective with those. Another example is in Phoenix – the Burton Barr Central Library … this building has been up for 10 of 15 years, I think …

Burton Barr Central Library, Phoenix (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

We can also put blinds on the interior – it obviously affects the appearance of the building, but by using light-colored blinds, we can reflect some of that insolation back out before it becomes long-wave radiation … an advantage of interior blinds in controllability for office workers. They can control them individually … Savings are greater with automated blinds … The New York Times Building is using a combination of exterior shading, but then they also use interior blinds … There’s a pretty high degree of controllability in the building, and that lets them get away with a high glazing percentage. The architect went to great lengths to have a high glazing area and also very clear glass. Interior blinds can have problems – here’s the Yale Sculpture Museum. I walked through with someone who worked there are was pointing out all kinds of problems they were having … an issue of programming problems, not understanding client need.

New York Times Building, New York (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Another thing we can do with glazings is to use dynamic glazings – these are glazings that are controlled, either passively or actively. There are different types – photochromic and thermochromic … More practical are the active control systems … It’s electrochromic that is the one that’s most actively being sold today … The basic idea is that you can apply a small amount of current and tint the glazing, dropping the transmittance from standard clear glass to down around 5 to 10%. Pretty dramatic reduction in solar gain … The interesting thing is that it’s expensive but the cost has been coming down and at the same time we’re understating what it takes to achieve this level of control with external and internal shading systems … and if you add it up, according to Sage, it’s more per square foot than if you went with an electrochromic system.

The other thing that can be done is a double envelope glazing system … have significant space between the layers of glazing … can ventilate the space in the summer to eliminate the heat gain. Can close the vents in the winter to keep the heat gain in. Fiona Cousins argues that for every project she’s done the modeling for, it’s been too expensive … She likes it form an engineering standpoint, but it doesn’t pencil out when they try to sell it to clients. The place that Fiona is more positive about double envelope is reskinning … just add an entire façade to the outside … dramatically improving of energy performance.

Vorderpfalz Bank, Ludwigshafen, Germany (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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This exchange was followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

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Part 2 and Part 3 will be posted soon.

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Death Rays


So… what on earth does this blog have to do with death rays?!

Well, yesterday the story of the “Vdara Death Rays” flew through a couple building science mailing lists that I am on. Basically, the building designers put very reflective glass on the outside of a curved building, which wound up posing a problem for folks at a pool nearby (more  below).  However, it turns out that a building doesn’t have to be curved for highly reflective glazing to pose a hazard to nearby people or nearby buildings.

How does this fit into concerns about energy use? One of the reasons that the highly reflective glazing is used is to prevent heat gain and therefore reduce the amount of energy needed to keep a building cool.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a story a few days ago about the Vdara Hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas.

The tall, sleek, curving Vdara Hotel at CityCenter on the Strip is a thing of beauty. But the south-facing tower is also a collector and bouncer of sun rays, which — if you’re at the hotel’s swimming pool at the wrong time of day and season — can singe your hair and melt your plastic drink cups and shopping bags.

Hotel pool employees call the phenomenon the “Vdara death ray.” A spokesman for MGM Resorts International, which owns Vdara, said he prefers the term “hot spot” or “solar convergence” to describe it. He went on to say that designers are already working with resort staff to come up with solutions.

You can read the entire story here.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Los Angeles, Walt Disney Concert Hall, by famous architect Frank Gehry, has had complaints about glare off the reflective surfaces.

While most of the building’s exterior was designed with stainless steel given a matte finish, the Founders Room and Children’s Amphitheater were designed with highly polished mirror-like panels. The reflective qualities of the surface were amplified by the concave sections of the Founders Room walls. Some residents of the neighboring condominiums suffered glare caused by sunlight that was reflected off these surfaces and concentrated in a manner similar to a parabolic mirror. The resulting heat made some rooms of nearby condominiums unbearably warm, caused the air-conditioning costs of these residents to skyrocket and created hot spots on adjacent sidewalks of as much as 60 °C (140 °F). After complaints from neighboring buildings and residents, the owners asked Gehry Partners to come up with a solution. Their response was a computer analysis of the building’s surfaces identifying the offending panels. In 2005 these were dulled by lightly sanding the panels to eliminate unwanted glare.

Frank Gehry had this to say when asked about potential for glare on a newer LA project (via the LA Times):

I had some bum rap at Disney Hall because of glare. That was 2% of the building had reflective stuff, and some pissed off lady (complained). So the County had to respond. (It took) A couple guys with steel wool and in about an hour and a half they fixed it. But it did appear as one of the 10 engineering disasters in the last ten years—talk about exaggerating. The county did a study of downtown LA that found 5 other buildings that were more reflective, but no one complained about them. So, we got to get more pissed off ladies.

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It has also been reported in Green Building Advisor that reflections from windows can melt residential vinyl siding.

Glass experts and home inspectors agree on one point: since vinyl siding can be melted by reflectance from conventional clear glass, a low-e window is not required… However, the use of low-e (or low-solar-gain) glass appears to increase the risk of melted siding. According to an article in the March 2007 issue of USGlass Magazine, “A study performed by Cardinal on this topic examined the impact of reflective coatings on this type of [vinyl siding] damage. ‘The more reflective coatings that are out there today, that are getting more popular, are going to create this problem,’ [Jeff Haberer] said. However, Cardinal found that even clear glass can become a significant heat source.”

Glass with a low solar heat-gain coefficient has a high solar reflectance. “What we are getting is very, very good windows,” said Jim Petersen, the director of R&D at Pulte Homes. “Now the energy that is not getting in the house has to go somewhere, and it’s being reflected.”

Read the entire story here.

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LBNL Open House on Saturday 10/2

Image credit: LBNL website

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, located up in the hills overlooking Berkeley, California, is hosting an open house on Saturday, October 2.

Ever wonder how biofuels are produced, cool roofs and smart windows reduce energy use, the Internet was created, or supernovas are discovered? Families, community members, and others who want to learn the answers to these and other scientific questions are invited to attend Berkeley Lab’s Open House.

Visitors can talk directly with scientists conducting cutting-edge research, check out a cosmic ray detector, sequence DNA, create and measure their own seismic waves, build a motor at the Family Adventure Zone, or take a tour of the Advanced Light Source, one of the world’s brightest sources of ultraviolet and soft x-ray beams, among numerous other activities. Performances, displays, demonstrations, lectures, tours and food vendors will also be featured.

It is important to note that registration is required for everyone interested in attending. There are two sessions, morning and afternoon. More details are available here.

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Assorted Links

Parts of California experience a record heat wave – Los Angeles had its highest recorded temperature of 113 deg F yesterday.

Schwarzenegger lashes out at the companies trying to get rid of California’s carbon regulation law,  AB 32.

Meg Whitman has now stated that she is against Prop 23 but would still suspend AB 32 for a year if elected.

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Local Target Stores & Hazardous Waste


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, all nine of the Target stores in Alameda County have been involved in illegal disposal of products containing hazardous waste by collecting and crushing batteries, phones and computers in the stores’ trash compactors to avoid disposal fees. An Alameda County judge has ordered the stores, among 240 in California accused of the practice, to stop.

According to the Washington Post, the lawsuit brought by the state of California and several cities and counties contends that Target stores routinely throw hazardous items such as bleach, pesticides, paint, aerosols and electronics directly into the trash. California has laws requiring special handling of hazardous waste.

Read the entire story here and here.

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Noelle has previously addressed the need to properly disposed of e-waste as part of a post on Extended Producer Responsibility.

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Cut Energy Use 50% in Commercial Buildings


The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just released two technical reports on how to achieve 50% energy savings in both new and existing large office buildings and large hospitals.

You can download the full report, “Technical Support Document: Strategies for 50% Energy Savings in Large Office Buildings,” as a pdf here.

You can download the other full report, “Large Hospital 50% Energy Savings: Technical Support Document,” as a pdf here.

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New! Announcing “Events” and “Webinars” Pages

We are working hard to build both a resource and a community here at Zero Resource.

To further build the community, we have launched an “Upcoming Bay Area Events” page to feature local events and speakers.

And because this is an online community, we have launched a “Webinars” page to feature interesting online presentations.

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You can navigate to the Events and Webinars pages through links in the right-hand column.

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Please send along interesting events and webinars to anna AT zeroresource DOT com. We will post those that we think will interest our readers.

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Lighting, Light Bulbs, and Lingering Habits


Highlighting a few recent stories…

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Research by the California Public Utility Commission staff indicates that if enough existing lighting and lighting for new buildings incorporate the latest technologies, the state could achieve a 60 to 80 percent reduction in light-related energy use. New policies adopted  by the commission promote that goal by encouraging utilities to rethink their current consumer subsidies, which tend to focus on compact fluorescents, in favor of the newer and more energy-efficient technologies. “We need to move on and look at how best to spend our resources on the next step of lighting,” said Theresa Cho, an aide to Commissioner Diane Grueneich. “Our goal is market transformation.” The shelves of Wal-Mart and other big-box stores are already full of compact fluorescents, she said – via the New York Times Green Blog.

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A trio of House Republicans, Joe Barton and Michael Burgess of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, have introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, which would repeal the section of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that sets minimum energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and would effectively phase out most ordinary incandescents – via the New York Times Green Blog.

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The Department of Energy’s inspector general released an audit on Wednesday showing that it is continuing to buy obsolete fluorescent lamps, bypassing the more modern technologies that it spent tax dollars to develop. Yet even more surprising, it is still buying the familiar incandescent bulbs in place of compact fluorescents. The department operates at 24 sites, and the auditors visited seven of them. “Despite the substantial benefits of C.F.L.’s, all of the sites we visited continued to purchase incandescent lights,” the report said – also via the New York Times Green Blog.

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Full List of AC Transit Cuts

The full list of night and weekend buses with service being cut has now been posted on the AC Transit website here.

Weekend lines that will continue to operate include: Lines 1, 1R, 18, 20, 22, 26, 40, 45, 51A, 51B, 57, 60, 72, 72M, 73, 76, 88, 97, 99, 210 and 217.

Lines that will be cut include: Lines 7, 11, 12, 14, 21, 25, 31, 32, 49, 52, 54, 62, 65, 67, 68, 70, 71, 74, 85, 86, 89, 93, 95, 98, 242, 251, 275, 332, 345, 350, 376, 386, F, NL and O.

The discontinued All-Nighter service includes Lines 802, 805, 840 and 851. Lines 800 and 801 will not be affected.

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Tracking Water Resources in Real Time


Image credit: SEBAL North America

According to a recent press release, scientists at SEBAL North America, located in Davis, California, are tracking real-time consumption of water by crops, cities, and natural ecosystems using satellites.

This new technology, applicable to water management needs globally, reduces substantial uncertainties in traditional approaches, greatly increasing confidence in water management decisions. Grant Davids, the company’s president, notes the broad range of applications of SEBAL for water managers. “Water consumption is usually the most important yet often most poorly quantified water management parameter. More accurate and spatially discrete estimates of consumptive use lead to improved water management over a wide range of conditions, from local to basin scales and from historical analysis for planning to real-time operations decision support.”

The company will be providing weekly maps showing water use for the Central Valley. The company also makes image overlays that can be opened in Google Earth to allow users to look more closely at water use in specific areas. Maps and data can be found on the SEBAL website.

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