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Homes and Commercial Buildings Seek Green Certification, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

In a growing trend, many homebuilders across the U.S. are constructing homes in accordance with the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) “green” specifications.  The NAHB’s green specifications require resource-efficient design, construction and operation, focusing on environmentally friendly materials.  An effort to save energy and reduce waste is spurring this trend.  In addition, local building codes in many cities, such as Houston, Texas, are requiring greater energy efficiency to be incorporated in designs before a building permit will be issued.
Meanwhile, New York City passed Local Law 97 in 2019 which requires buildings to lower emissions by 40% by 2030, and 80% by 2050.  Most of the emissions are generated from boilers and heaters.  New York nonprofit Urban Green Council estimates that the law will create a $20 billion market for building retrofits of roughly 50,000 buildings over the next 10 years.  Projects will include LED light bulbs, triple-pane windows and installing more efficient heating and cooling equipment and heat pumps.  In addition, massive numbers of solar panels are expected to be installed on buildings, to add up to 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2030.
There are several advantages to building along eco-sensitive lines.  Lower operating costs are incurred because buildings built with highly energy-efficient components have superior insulation and require less heating and/or cooling.  These practices include the use of oriented strand board instead of plywood; vinyl and fiber-cement sidings instead of wood products; and well insulated foundations, windows and doors.  Heating and cooling equipment with greater efficiency is being installed, as well as dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines that use between 40% and 70% less energy than their 1970s counterparts.  Some builders are opting for high efficiency geothermal heating and cooling, while some home and building owners want solar electricity generation.
In addition to energy concerns, plumbing and water efficiency are vital goals in green buildings.  This trend will accelerate due to deep concerns about the availability of water in populous regions ranging from California to China.  Wastewater heat recovery systems use wastewater to heat incoming water.  Toilets are more efficient.  Current models use a mere 1.28 gallons of water per flush, as opposed to four gallons in the 70’s.  Landscaping is likewise being designed for much lower water usage.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the WaterSense certification, a voluntary program to promote water-efficient products and services.  For example, WaterSense certifies low-flow toilets that use a mere 1.28 gallons per flush, creates standards for bathroom-sink faucets that flow at no more than 1.5 gallons per minute and offers a certification program for irrigation companies that use water-efficient practices.
The main disadvantage is that green building is more expensive than traditional construction methods.  Added building costs often reach 10% to 20% and more per home; however, some homebuyers are willing to pay the increased price for future savings on utilities and maintenance.  As energy prices increased over recent decades, builders became more amenable to constructing homes with energy-savings measures.  In addition, some consumers are inclined to spend more when they feel they are buying environmentally friendly products, including homes.  (Marketing analysts refer to this segment as “LOHAS,” a term that stands for “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.”  It refers to consumers who choose to purchase items that are natural, organic, less polluting and so forth.  Such consumers may also prefer products powered by alternative energy, such as hybrid cars.)
The U.S. government and all 50 states offer tax incentives in varying amounts to builders using solar technology.  Zero Energy Design (“ZED”) is slowly catching on.  A handful of “zero energy homes (“ZEH”)” that produce approximately as much electricity as they use are being built.

Internet Research Tip, Zero Energy Homes:

     By installing photovoltaic panels or other renewable sources to generate electricity and using improved insulation and energy-efficient appliances and lighting, the zero-energy goal may be achieved, at least in sunny climates such as those in the American West and Southwest.  The state of California revised its energy efficiency requirements recently, which took effect in 2014.  Requirements include solar panels, hot water pipe insulation and the verification by an independent inspector that all air conditioning units are properly installed for maximum efficiency.  The state code goes a step farther, recommending whole-house fans to displace warm air with cooler night air in the summer seasons, improved windows and better insulation.  State regulators estimate that these changes will make residential and commercial buildings between 25% and 30% more energy efficient.
Researchers at the University of Colorado developed a film in 2017 that can cool buildings without the use of refrigerants such as hydrofluorocarbons.  The film uses radiative cooling, a process that converts unwanted heat into infrared of a specific wavelength that can be safely released into the atmosphere.  Transparent polymethylpentene is mixed with tiny glass beads and backed with a silver lining.  When stretched across a roof, the silver lining on the bottom of the film reflects light back through the plastic, and the glass beads emit the collected heat when they reach a diameter of about eight microns.  The research team estimates that 65 square feet of film could reduce an average American home’s internal temperature to 68 degrees Fahrenheit when it is 98 degrees outside.
In the commercial sector, businesses may have several reasons to build greener, more energy-efficient buildings.  To begin with, long-term operating costs will be lower, which will likely more than offset higher construction costs.  Next, many companies see great public relations benefit in the ability to state that their new factory or headquarters building is environmentally friendly.  Many office buildings, both public and private, are featuring alternative energy systems, ultra-high-efficiency heating and cooling, or high-efficiency lighting.  In California, many public structures are incorporating solar power generation.
Even building maintenance is getting involved—building owners are finding that they can save huge amounts of money by scheduling janitorial service during the day, instead of the usual after-hours, after-dark schedule.  In this manner, there is no need to leave lighting, heating or cooling running late at night for the cleaning crews.
An exemplary green office building is Bank of America Tower (formerly One Bryant Park), a 54-story skyscraper on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City.  The $1.2-billion project is constructed largely of recycled and recyclable materials.  Rainwater and wastewater is collected and reused, and a lighting and dimming system reduces electrical light levels when daylight is available.  The building supplies about 70% of its own energy needs with an on-site natural gas burning power plant.  It was the first skyscraper to rate platinum certification by adhering to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, set by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000 (see
The Pearl River Tower, a 71-story skyscraper in Guangzhou, China, was designed to be one of the first major zero-energy buildings.  Designed by Chicago architecture firm SOM, the tower was planned to be 58% more energy efficient than traditional skyscrapers by using solar roof panels, novel wind turbines embedded in four openings spaced throughout the tower and walls with eight-inch air gaps that trap heat which then rises to power heat exchangers for use in cooling systems.  The building encompasses about 2.3 million square feet of floor space.
A growing number of buildings are being retrofitted to use energy more efficiently.  One example is the initiative underway at Citigroup, Inc.  The banking firm is turning off lobby escalators, incorporating more natural light and using recycled materials in dozens of its properties around the world.  Citigroup says it can save as much as $1 per square foot of building per year by making its offices more efficient.  Elsewhere, Google, Inc. installed a solar rooftop at its California headquarters.
LEED standards have been adopted by companies such as Ford, Pfizer, Nestlé and Toyota, which have all built LEED-certified structures in the U.S.  LEED is not without competition.  Another green verification program called Green Globes is backed by the Green Building Initiative in the U.S. Green Building Initiative is a group led by a former timber company executive and funded by several timber and wood products firms.  Several U.S. states have adopted Green Globes guidelines instead of those supported by LEED for government-subsidized building projects.  In Canada, a version of Green Globes for existing buildings is overseen by the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada (BOMA Canada) under the brand “BOMA Best.” Green Globes is more wood friendly than LEED, which is not surprising considering the involvement of the timber industry.  It promotes the use of wood and wood products in construction with fewer restrictions than LEED, which approves of wood if it comes from timber grown under sustainable forestry practices approved by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international accrediting group.
In one ambitious project, a $30 million office building in Seattle, Washington spent its first year in a kind of sustainability test.  The Living Building Challenge ( established and overseen by the International Living Future Institute, will measure the building’s sustainability in seven areas:  site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.  Those areas were tested by a list of 20 requirements such as net zero use of water and energy, operable windows and car free living.  The new six-story building in Seattle is called Bullitt Center.
Retail giant Walmart has attained remarkable achievements in reducing energy use in stores, cutting waste in packaging and increasing the efficiency of its massive trucking and distribution system.  Walmart’s goals include significant generation of solar power from its rooftops.  Walmart announced a collaboration with ENGIE North America in 2021 for more than 500 megawatts of wind generated electricity for use in its stores, clubs and distribution centers in Texas, South Dakota and Oklahoma.  The firm ultimately hopes to be 100% powered by renewable energy as early as 2035.

SPOTLIGHT:  Solar Power Direct from Roofing Shingles
Dow Chemical has invested $100 million (plus a $10 million grant from the Department of Energy) in researching new plastic photovoltaic roof panels using thin film solar cells.  The product, called Powerhouse, costs a homeowner about $31,000, after government subsidies and tax rebates, for approximately 3,000 square feet of roofing material.  This compares to about $12,000 for traditional asphalt shingles, but Dow claims that homeowners will save $76,200 in energy costs over 25 years and increase a home’s value by $22,000.  In addition, the installation of these shingles may qualify for tax credits.

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