Highlights in Design and Construction

Highlights in Design and Construction

GreenBiz.com News Affiliate Environmental Building News puts feelers out far and wide for news others might miss. Here’s an excerpt from EBN’s most recent “What’s Happening” news roundup on environmentally responsible design and construction. Posted July 6, 2001.


The Breathe Easy Office

The American Lung Association reports that in a nationwide random sample of office workers, 24% felt that there were air quality problems in their work environment and 20% believed that poor air quality affected their work performance. Sources of indoor air pollution include biological agents, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, radon, secondhand tobacco smoke, and a panoply of volatile organic compounds. Sobering statistics and substances to which we are exposed, but what to do about it?

The American Lung Association’s Virginia chapter in Richmond has an answer: The Breathe Easy Office. This ALA project is dedicated to reducing indoor air pollution; using low-cost, sustainable building products and techniques; and raising public awareness of indoor air quality as a serious public health issue.

In September 2000, the Richmond office opened the first Breathe Easy facility. From foundation to landscaping, the project features a wide range of materials and techniques that promote a better indoor environment.

These include:
  • Conditioned crawlspace with soil moisture barrier and slight positive pressure to eliminate radon.

  • Low-or no-VOC sealants used throughout the building to maximize airtightness and minimize chemical exposure.

  • Seven-zone HVAC system with HEPA-filtered outdoor air supply, humidity control, and mechanical ventilation with slight positive pressurization.

Recycled Content Certified in Collins Particleboard

Collins Products LLC has received Green Cross certification from Scientific Certification Systems, Inc. that its particleboard is manufactured entirely from post-industrial waste fibers. While most particleboard manufactured today contains a high percentage of wood waste from other manufacturing processes, Collins has made an unusual commitment to ensuring that no virgin fiber be incorporated. More information is available from Chris Bailey at 800-547-1793, or www.CollinsWood.com.

American Tree Farm System on the Grow

The American Tree Farm System has engaged PriceWaterhouseCoopers to review its certification and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses in relation to the American Forest and Paper Association’s (AF&PA) Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The Tree Farm System is a program of the American Forest Foundation, providing technical and communications support to many small landowners. It entered into a mutual recognition agreement with the SFI in 2000. SFI is an industry-led certification system that competes with that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Frisco First: Codified Green Building Program

Under a new ordinance, every new home in the City of Frisco, Texas must be built to the minimum standards of the city’s green building program, featuring the EPA Energy Star Homes program. This makes Frisco one of the first cities in the U.S. to have a mandatory green building program, and the first to mandate Energy Star standards.

A coincidental overlap with a new initiative from the local utility, TXU Electric, is helping to make these requirements affordable for builders.

According to Jeff Witt, senior planner for Frisco and a key player in the program’s development, this year, 3,000 new homes will be built in Frisco. Located 20 miles north of Dallas, Frisco is the fastest growing city in Texas, with a population of just over 40,000.

“The City Council and Mayor wanted a program that would bring this large new housing stock up to a higher standard of durability and performance, and insulate their homeowners from inevitably rising energy costs,” Witt said.

Witt and a committee of seven area homebuilders developed the green builder program and criteria. The City Council and mayor unanimously approved the program May 1.

Meanwhile, in a completely independent effort, TXU Electric decided to develop extensive support for a Dallas/Fort Worth Energy Star New Home Program. This was a proactive response by TXU to the energy efficiency goals of the state’s new electricity deregulation law. The TXU program gives participating builders a variety of services including plan analysis; training for trade contractors, superintendents, sales representatives, and realtors; and subsidized inspections (blower door and duct testing). TXU Electric will subsidize Energy Star certification for 4,000 new homes in the Dallas/Fort Worth service area.

“Out of the blue, TXU calls and says they want to talk to us about what we are both doing -- it was a perfect fit,” Witt said. TXU has about 80% of the residential accounts in Frisco.

The Frisco green building program, launched May 2, addresses four major areas: energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, and waste recycling.

Energy efficiency requirements are identical to those for the EPA Energy Star program. Homes must attain a HERS rating of 86. Initial analysis shows that the cost premium for the energy upgrades will be $1,500 to $3,000 per home. The cost of the HERS rating -- plan analysis, insulation and duct inspections, and blower door/duct pressurization testing -- is about $750 per home.

The program requires that, for production builders, one in six homes be tested. The criteria for water conservation, indoor air quality, and waste recycling vary in vigor:

“Some are pretty elementary,” Witt acknowledged, “but our approach on this program is crawl; walk; run.”

The water conservation criteria are primarily optional and designed to educate the buyer. The indoor air quality requirements are substantive: range hoods vented to the outside, hardwired CO detectors for every 1,000 ft 2 (90 m2) of living space, and an exterior ventilation system with specific airflow requirements for kitchens, baths, and bedrooms.

Recycling of wood and brick is mandatory for all new homes under the program.

“We checked to make sure that there was sufficient demand to meet the supply of these materials. We do have a drywall recycling facility under development in the area and can add that to the list when the time comes,” said Witt.

The haulers don’t have the right setup with their equipment to handle cardboard, but that is another material the program hopes to add to the list.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Frisco’s green building program is the broad and deep support it has throughout local government and the community. From elected officials right down to the building inspection department, everyone seems to understand and support the program, Witt said.

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Environmental Building News is a GreenBiz News Affiliate. This story appears by permission. Story copyright 2001 EBN, all rights reserved.