June 29, 2010

Tonight on Ecotopia we’ll be talking about ways in which buildings can be made more green, and we’ll have as our guest, a designer and builder, Aaron Lubeck, from Durham, North Carolina, who has done a number of restorations of older buildings. He argues that we can not only preserve our heritage, but  also bring it more in line with a 21st century philosophy of sustainability. Conducting the interview with us will be Chicoan Jef Inslee.  Jef was on the show a few weeks ago when we interviewed him about how he has converted his yard on Sheridan Street into a functional garden that produces high quality food. He’s also done some green restoration.

Listen to the program.

Background on Green Building

Our guest tonight, Aaron Lubeck, helped to create North Carolina’s first state  historic building to be LEED-certified, which achieved a Platinum rating. Although one hears about LEED certification, it may not be altogether clear what it is, much less what the acronym, L-E-E-D stands for.  Here from greenwikia.com:

“LEED Certification stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Certification assures that a building project is environmentally responsible, profitable, and a healthy place to work.
 
“LEED is a third party certification system by the US Green Building Council, or USGBC. The USGBC also provides professional accreditation to professionals who demonstrate knowledge of green building practices and principles and who are familiar with LEED requirements and processes.
 
“Ratings exist [in such categories as new construction, existing buildings, schools, homes, healthcare facilities, and others].”
 
The US Green Building Council has done some research into these practices and concludes that:
 
“[LEED certified buildings generally] have lower operating costs,[…] conserve water and energy,  are healthier and safer for occupants, [and] reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  […]”
 
greenwikia.com also reports that:
 
“[O]ne of the downsides to LEED certification is the cost that can be involved for smaller building owners/builders to become certified. Sometimes builders must decide between implementing more green design strategies, versus participating in the certification process to achieve official LEED certification.”

We want to observe that this is a problem we’ve also seen in some other certification areas, including both USDA Organic and TransFair USA’s “Fair Trade” Certification, where the processes become so complex and expensive that some of the smaller operations are costed out of the process.  For example, we know of a number of farmers who have chosen not to become certified, and simply list their organic practices.
 
These reservations, and others, are raised in an article appearing in the online journal, Grist, which offers this “in the spirit of constructive criticism”:
 
“LEED-certified buildings are still about as rare as major wind farms in the U.S. So far, fewer than 300 projects have been certified, and about 2,200 have been registered, according to USGBC officials. Registration involves a fairly simple project description and a summary of the LEED credits the developer expects to earn, but actual certification requires thorough documentation, review, and commissioning, a process that can take many months and, some green-building practitioners argue, considerably drive up costs.”
 
The Grist article continues:
 
“Many developers point to the expense of certification, rather than of green building
itself, as a disincentive. The USGBC’s fees for registration range from $750 to $3,750, and certification runs from $1,500 to $7,500, depending on the size of the building. But the big costs come in the form of energy modeling, commissioning, and other requirements of certification; these can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, according to architects and developers.”
 
Grist also argues:
 
“Some critics also argue that basic [LEED] certification is too low a hurdle to merit the
green stamp of approval. They say developers can rack up the minimum number of
needed points without going much beyond the requirements of local building codes and the efficiency standards of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and  Air-Conditioning Engineers.”
 
http://www.grist.org/article/leed1/
 
We also want to share with you a related story coming from the U. S. Mayor’s Conference held earlier this month, this in a press release from the US Green Building Association, which:
 
“… applauds the U.S. Conference of Mayors […] and its membership for embracing a green building policy agenda, including the adoption of five resolutions that benefit our built environment [and can help transform] the design, construction and operations of our buildings and communities.

“The resolutions that passed […]include:
•  Financing Mechanisms to Pay for Energy Retrofits of Existing Buildings
•  Greening of School Districts
•  Sustainable Development in Cities
• Green Affordable Housing and Financing
•  Calling on U.S. Cities to Adopt Green Building Codes and the International Green Construction Code”
 
The USGBA press release continues:
 
“Mayors have long been leading the effort to address climate change and the need to promote sustainability in our nation’s cities. These resolutions, passed unanimously in Oklahoma City during the USCM annual meeting, represent a powerful endorsement of support for implementing a green building agenda that will advance our greatest opportunities to revitalize the economy through green jobs and save money through operational cost savings while turning the tide of climate change, preserving water and natural resources, and promoting health for all people.”
 
The mayor’s conference had a number of environmental workshops and resolutions, and you can check them out at http://www.usmayors.org/
 
At the end of the program tonight we will also look briefly at a US Green Building Council report projecting the number of jobs that can reasonably be expected to be created in the next several decades as the result of green building–it’s a big number and suggests that construction, the environment, and the economy can be allies in Ecotopia.
 
Our Conversation with Aaron Lubeck

Aaron Lubeck is a President of Trinity Design/Build, a restoration and preservation consultancy in North Carolina.  His new book is Green Restorations: Sustainable Building and Historic Homes.  Welcome Aaron.
 
Please tell us a little of your background.  How did you get into green historic restorations?
In the conclusion to your book you write, “Old houses are green. Old home operations are not”.  How can an old house be green?
 
You also talk about  ‘the triple bottom line’. Your book takes what sounds potentially complex and confusing and makes this concept easy to grasp. Please explain it.
 
Your example of repairing old wood framed windows versus replacing them with, for example, aluminum framed windows is illuminating, if you would spare the pun. The concept is easily grasped and can be applied to many of the choices that we encounter when renovating an older or historic home. Will you talk to us about that?
 
Jef:  I have renovated several Victorians, many of which had been had layers of paint, drywall, or vinyl siding that previous owners applied, either to cover up what was no longer fashionable or to simplify a rental property. Aaron, how do you safely and effectively reveal the beautiful craftsmanship and materials that are often hidden underneath?
 
Something that we don’t commonly include in assessments of what is sustainable is what you call ‘embodied energy’. Your book does a great job of explaining that. Will you explain embodied energy and how to include that when we think about sustainability?
 
Do low flow toilets really save water? Not to be indelicate, but we don’t think that we’re the only  people who might occasionally flush them twice. And why aren’t dual-flush toilets more common?
 
You write that, ‘ A tight house is more important than a well insulated house’ and frequently refer to a house’s ‘envelope’. What does that mean? We loved your helpful hint about how to make a ‘poor folks blower door’ so we can start to fix our leaky houses. 

We noted that your firm did one of the first LEED certified projects on a state building in North Carolina–LEED, as we explained earlier, standing for  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Please tell us about that project.  How difficult was it to obtain LEED certification?  How much did it cost?
 
With or without certification, what’s the role for the do-it-yourselfer in green building and home design.  Can your reasonably handy person make a house green?
 
Earlier in the program, we read an announcement that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed green building practices.  Do you think green practices are gaining enough momentum to become sustainable?
 
What sorts of cost and tax breaks are available to the  green builder/homeowner?
 
A question we ask almost every guest on this show:  Do you think green/sustainable building can/will:
–take off on its own?
–require government subsidies and incentives to become truly mainstream?
–be a natural byproduct of market forces?
–happen only with government mandates?
 
 What are your next/current projects?
 
Thank you, Aaron Lubeck.  The book is Green Restorations: Sustainable Building and Historic Restoration, and it’s published by New Society Publishers.  Thanks very much for being with us.

Additional Note:

At the opening of the program, we quoted the US Green Building Association, sponsors of LEED certification. Their website includes a wealth of material on green building, though with an obvious bias toward promoting their own certification.  
 
 With a mild caution concerning the source, then, we want to excerpt a recent report from USGBA released in conjunction with the U.S. Mayors Conference concerning the future of green jobs.  They conducted a survey of projected energy needs and savings and translated that into jobs they think may be required in the new green economy.
 
They argue that:
 
” The greening of the U.S. economy, of the global economy, is not a dismantling of the past, but a new step forward – the next step in a continuous process of economic growth and transformation that began with industrialization and led us through the high-tech revolution.
 
“The economic advantages of the Green Economy include the macroeconomic benefits of investment in new technologies, greater productivity, improvements in the US balance of trade, and increased real disposable income across the nation. They also include the microeconomic benefits of lower costs of doing business and reduced household energy expenditures. These advantages are manifested in job growth, income growth, […]
 
The report estimates:
 
“…that as of 2006 there were just more than 750,000 Green Jobs in the U.S. economy.[…]
 
“Overall, we estimate there is the potential for 4.2 million new Green Jobs to be added to the U.S. economy by 2038, [including renewable power generation, residential and commercial retrofitting, renewable transportation, and supporting jobs in engineering, law, and consulting.]”
 
 The US Green Building Association report concludes with unabashed optimism:
 
“The United States is clearly heading toward a new era in terms of its energy policy, energy infrastructure, and energy-based economy. Elected officials at all levels of government and private markets are both gearing up for massive investments in new alternative fuel technologies and in increased energy efficiency. There are many Green Jobs in our economy already, but that figure stands to grow tremendously over the coming years due to market forces, legislation, and local initiatives, or some combination thereof.
 
“The vast majority of Green Jobs are not location dependent, so future Green Jobs will be located in cities and metropolitan areas that are currently the most attractive for investment, or in areas that actively increase their attractiveness relative to competing areas.
 
We hope that proves true.  We would urge listeners to read the full report at usgbc.org.

Playlist for Ecotopia #92: Green Renovations

1. House Of Cards        5:28        Radiohead       
        In Rainbows        From Pennie
2. House You’re Living In        4:18        Voices On The Verge       
        Live In Philadelphia       
3, Time 2 Build        3:24        The Herbaliser       
        Something Wicked This Way Comes       
4. A Place Called Home        3:43        PJ Harvey       
        Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea       
5. Home        4:06        Mike Wofchuck       
        Flight       
6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary       
        The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary