Green Building Roundup: Testing Next-Gen Buildings, Is GSA Breaking Green Rules? & More

Green Building Roundup: Testing Next-Gen Buildings, Is GSA Breaking Green Rules? & More

• Dreamboat Design for Test Bed: Imagine a life-size test bed for building technology, where walls, windows, skylights, roofs, lighting and systems for heating, ventilation and air conditioning could be swapped out. Now imagine four of them, each with the ability to be split in two to create a controlled environment. On top of that, one of the test beds would be designed to rotate 270 degrees to vary its exposure to the sun.

That's what scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory envision for their User Test Bed Facility, a $15.9 million project to advance ultra energy efficient buildings. Funded with Recovery Act money, construction is expected to begin in spring 2012 with completion scheduled a year later.

"Think of these test beds as kind of an Erector set,"  Berkeley Lab engineer Oren Schetrit, a program manager for the Test Bed Facility, told the lab's Julie Chao. "They're designed with extreme flexibility in mind."

Renderings of the facility are at the top of the page and to the right.

• GSA Sued Over EPA HQ in Kansas: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been heaped with criticism for planning to relocate its Region 7 headquarters from urban and easily reachable Kansas City, Kansas, to the town of Lenexa, 20 miles away. Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council called the area "one of the worst examples of suburban sprawl it (the EPA) could have possibly found."

Now the consolidated government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County, where K.C. is the county seat, is suing the General Services Administration over the EPA's planned move to an office park (once home to Applebee's headquarters) after the agency's lease in downtown Kansas City expires in June 2012. The lawsuit, filed this week, accuses the GSA of violating presidential executive orders that require facilities to be sustainable and located in urban cores.

Attorney Shari Shapiro
examines the lawsuit in her Green Building Law blog. "I would argue (and the complaint alludes to it as well) that the Lenexa decision does not hold up on a purely economic basis, let alone an environmental one," Shapiro wrote. "The new site is located outside of the central business district, and has little access to transit. This means that every time an EPA employee has to go to a meeting, the courthouse and to other businesses in the course of their official duties, they must do so by car."

Another $40 Lightbulb from Philips: Philips' LED replacement for the 75-watt incandescent bulb, a model the company calls the AmbientLED 17-watt, joins the company's LED replacement for a traditional 60-watt bulb on the market. Senior Writer Marc Gunther noted the release of the company's AmbientLED 12.5-watt bulb in February.

Both the 17-watt and 12.5 watt AmbientLEDs are Energy Star rated and sell for $39.97 apiece. Philips says the 17-watt bulb uses 80 percent less energy than a standard 75-watt bulb, lasts 25 times longer, and can save $160 in electricity costs during its lifetime. The bulb, pictured above, is available at

• More Steps Toward a Smarter Grid: Honeywell's Utility PRO thermostat tethered with energy services software and communications technology called Yukon from Cooper Power Systems have earned certification under the ZigBee Smart Energy version 1.1 -- a standard for open communication among smart grid energy management products. ZigBee is a global wireless language that enables different devices to "talk" to each other. Such communication is an essential factor in visions of a connected world of energy, buildings, vehicle and information technology -- an intersection that GreenBiz Group calls VERGE.

The Honeywell thermostat and the Cooper Power Systems technology make up a demand response system that allows residents to take greater advantage of smart meter setups with their utility. Through demand response, customers can help reduce the load on the grid and save money by easing their draw on power during peak periods. The products from the two companies enable customers to participate in demand response arrangements, program when they'll do so, and receive near real-time information about energy use and billing. The news from Honeywell and Cooper Industries came yesterday as the ZigBee Alliance announced the release of version 1.1 of its advanced metering infrastructure standard and the certification of several products under the updated criteria.

• SF Mayor Pushes LEED-Gold Requirement: After September 1, all new municipal buildings and major renovation projects of 5,000 square feet or more in San Francisco would have to attain at least U.S. Green Building Council LEED-Gold certification, under legislation Mayor Edwin M. Lee introduced to the city's Board of Supervisors this week.

The city currently mandates LEED-Silver certification -- the second level of four in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards -- for municipal building projects and is scheduled to upgrade to the gold certification requirement in 2012. Lee's proposal would make city projects go for the gold ahead of schedule. The plan does not change the requirement for new construction and major renovations of large private sector buildings to meet LEED-Gold standards starting in 2012.

San Francisco was recently named top green city in North America by Siemens' Green City Index; the best place in the country for green building opportunities, according to the BetterBricks Green Building Opportunity Index, and the most "climate-ready" city in the U.S. by CO2 Impact and its CEO Boyd Cohen.

• Turner a Leader in LEED:
Turner Construction Company says it now has 200 LEED-certified buildings to its credit and another 230 LEED-registered projects in the pipeline for certification by the USGBC. In all, that amounts to about 100 million square feet with a construction value that exceeds $27 billion.

Turner recapped its green building achievements this week in announcing that the 140,000-square-foot Yale Health Center, pictured below, has earned LEED-Gold certification. ( Senior Writer Marc Gunther reported on the center and Turner last spring.) The company completed $4.2 billion of green buildings in 2010, an increase of almost 17 percent from the $3.6 billion in 2009. Turner also said that it finished an average of one LEED certified project a week in the past year, and that environmentally friendly building makes up about 50 percent its backlog of construction activity.


• The Impacts of Carbon-Pricing Down Under: With plans underway for a federal carbon tax amounting to Aus$23 ($24.73) per metric ton of CO2 for the largest emitters, the Green Building Council of Australia is warning landlords to look to their properties and leasing arrangements. It's in everyone's best interest for buildings to be as energy efficient as possible, according to green building advocates. And property owners need to ensure that contracts "appropriately share or pass through the risk of rising energy and waste-disposal costs," AGBC CEO Romilly Madew told the Herald Sun.

Gross leases, which include utilities, benefit the tenant in the short run but can cause problems for the landlord in the near-term and possibly for the tenant later on. If there isn't enough margin to cover rising energy costs and leases can't be renegotiated, the landlord has to absorb the increases. The longer that happens, the less there is to spend on other operating costs for the building, such as maintenance and repairs -- making the property less desirable to tenants. If everything is passed along to tenants, they'll likely go elsewhere to find better deals and buildings that are more energy efficient, thereby reducing any costs that fall to renters.

Image Credits: Renderings of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab tests beds by Stantec Architecture via Product image from Philips. Rendering of the Yale Health Center from Yale.