Blog image

7 Green Building Wishes for 2014

Posted December 26, 2013 9:43 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Here are some green product developments I’d like to see in the New Year

A plug-in hybrid vehicle charged using a net-metered PV array at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. I want to see the market share of plug-in vehicles double next year. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

I spend a lot of time writing about innovations in the building industry—the cool stuff that’s coming out all the time. But I also like to think about what’s needed: stuff that’s not (yet) on the market or performance levels not yet available.

1) Rigid insulation with no flame retardants and insignificant global warming potential

We've been highly critical of the brominated and chlorinated flame retardant chemicals added to nearly all foam-plastic rigid insulation today as well as the high-global-warming-potential blowing agents used in extruded polystyrene (see Can We Replace Foam Insulation?). I would love to see affordable alternatives. They could be new formulations of polystyrene or polyisocyanurate that doesn’t require flame retardants or inorganic materials that are inherently noncombustible (see our review of cool new products from Greenbuild for some advances). I’m intrigued by advanced ceramics and could imagine a foamed ceramic insulation being developed that meets these criteria.

Your Picks: 10 Hottest Green Building Topics of 2013

Posted December 19, 2013 3:22 PM by Paula Melton
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Boora Architects is designing a 22,000 ft2 early childhood center addition for the Earl Boyles School in Portland, Oregon. Boora has switched to mineral wool as its standard insulation material for rainscreen walls like this one, in part because of toxicity concerns with foam insulation materials. Image: Boora ArchitectsBoora Architects is designing a 22,000 ft2 early childhood center addition for the Earl Boyles School in Portland, Oregon. Boora has switched to mineral wool as its standard insulation material for rainscreen walls like this one, in part because of toxicity concerns with foam insulation materials. Image: Boora ArchitectsCan we replace foam insulation? What does energy modeling really tell us? Find out what you, our readers, have picked as this year’s top 10 stories!

Our resident number-crunchers have spent hours slaving over metrics to bring you … your own most-read BuildingGreen stories of the year. Ta-da!

We just have to say, you guys have great taste. If you don’t see your favorite article listed here, though, tell us what it is—and why—in the comments.

And don’t forget that BuildingGreen members can collect CEUs—for LEED, AIA, and ILFI—for many of these popular articles. Just read the story, take the quiz, and we do the reporting for you.

10. On the grid, off the grid

Islandable Solar: PV for Power Outages” reveals a conundrum of grid-connected PV: it can’t be used during a power outage! Click through to learn about your three options for greater resilience (and check out #8 too).

9. Say it after me: AH-ge-pahn

Yeah, it’s spelled like “age pan,” but we swear it’s got a lot going for it, starting with German engineering (and pronunciation). Learn more about “Agepan: A Vapor-Permeable, Wood-Based Insulation Board” in our product review.

8. Awesome products!

Last month, we selected our favorite forward-looking products for 2014, and you selected our story as one of the most popular articles of the year. Our choices solve key design and environmental problems, but more importantly, Lloyd Alter called them “sexy”!

7. Taking charge of our own pee and poop

NIMBYism Alert: Opposition to "Industrial" Solar Projects

Posted December 18, 2013 5:18 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Are we going to find the same NIMBY opposition to larger solar systems that we’re experiencing today with wind farms? 

The 197 kW solar array at Logan Airport in Boston—on the top level of the Terminal B parking garage. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

When the economy-of-scale with wind power led to larger and larger wind turbines, opponents of these installations took to referring to them as “industrial wind power.” Whenever I see a letter-to-the-editor or news story that uses this identity I can tell that it’s going to have an anti-wind bias.

Whether its marring their views of pristine mountains, blighting their night sky with blinking red lights, causing bird and bat fatalities, or producing “infrasound” pollution, opponents almost universally refer to these wind farms using an industrial moniker.

So, I’m becoming troubled by recent reference to “industrial solar” in describing the larger photovoltaic (PV) installations that are cropping up in Vermont and nationwide. Some opposition seems to be emerging, for example, to a 2 megawatt (MW) array that’s being proposed for Brattleboro, and I’m hearing more and more such concerns nationally.

Flywheels: A Cleaner Way of Stabilizing Our Electricity Grid

Posted December 11, 2013 8:53 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Beacon Power pushing the envelope and creating a more resilient utility grid with large-scale flywheel power storage

Schematic of Beacon Power's Energy Smart 25 flywheel.
Photo Credit: Beacon Power

After I wrote last week about a company developing power grid electrical storage systems using lithium-ion battery technology, a reader alerted me to another, very different approach for storing electricity to make the utility grid more stable and resilient: flywheels.

We've written before about flywheel electrical storage for use in data centers to provide instantaneous back-up power that can last for a few minutes until back-up generators can be started up. But I had not been aware of utility-scale projects that were in operation.

Battles Over LEED in the Military Are Still a Distraction

Posted December 11, 2013 5:21 PM by Paula Melton
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

A recent memo hints that the Department of Defense will accept Green Globes certification for buildings—but that was already the case.

Nine out of ten news whisperers agree: this is a dog-bites-man story, not the other way around. Photo: Iamliam. License: CC BY 2.0Nine out of ten news whisperers agree: this is a dog-bites-man story, not the other way around. Photo: Iamliam. License: CC BY 2.0It started with a press release from the Green Building Initiative, developer of the online Green Globes tool—“Department of Defense Recognizes Green Globes for Assessing Building Sustainability”—and it spread from there to many of our favorite blogs and green building news sites.

The press release claims, “Following the lead of the General Services Administration (GSA), the DoD recently recognized Green Globes as an approved program for DoD facilities.”

Dog bites man

There are two things wrong with this.

First of all, it isn’t news. As we reported in “4 Reasons the Battles Over LEED in the Military Are a Distraction,” DoD has always kept a loose rein on building certification systems. The Army and Navy have pursued LEED aggressively, whereas the Veterans Administration tends to prefer Green Globes. “We didn’t want to lock ourselves into one particular green rating system,” Lt. Col. Keith Welch told us back in March. The United Facilities Criteria (UFC), which is effectively the military’s own building code and was updated last spring, requires LEED Silver or equivalent. “Equivalent,” in practice, has always included Green Globes.

Biophilia in the Real World

Posted December 5, 2013 12:37 PM by Candace Pearson
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Biophilia is supposed to be about our innate connection to nature. So where do TV windows and artificial breezes enter in?

I shoulCan you tell if this living wall is real or fake? Does it matter? Biophilia experts are reviewing the research and responding with their own ideas. Credit: Spaceo. License: CC BY 2.0. Can you tell if this living wall is real or fake? Does it matter? Biophilia experts are reviewing the research and responding with their own ideas. Credit: Spaceo. License: CC BY 2.0. d have known I was in for something unexpected when I walked into this year’s Greenbuild session on “biophilia”—humans’ love of living things—in a dark, windowless auditorium.

The irony of the setting was not lost on the four presenters of “Biophilia; Moving from Theory to Reality.” Amanda Sturgeon, vice president of the Living Building Challenge; Margaret Montgomery, principal of NBBJ; Mary Davidge, of Mary Davidge Associates; and Bill Browning, partner at Terrapin Bright Green, joked about how they hoped the lack of daylight wouldn’t lull us into an afternoon nap as they spoke.

Solar-Powered Microgrids Could Protect Us from Power Outages

Posted December 3, 2013 8:52 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Solar Grid Storage is at the forefront of efforts to use renewable energy to create a more resilient utility grid 

The PowerFactor250 from Solar Grid Storage. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Solar Grid Storage

Last week I reported on The Navy Yard in Philadelphia, a remarkable 1,200-acre business campus with 300 companies employing 10,000 people—with as many as 35,000 employees projected eventually. What had attracted me to the facility was an innovative demonstration that’s been launched showing how solar-electric (PV) systems with battery back-up and smart controls can help to create a more resilient power grid.

The Navy Yard at the Forefront of Philly’s Green Rebirth

Posted November 26, 2013 10:27 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Philadelphia’s Navy Yard is achieving robust economic development while demonstrating a wide variety of energy innovations

One of the restored, historic buildings at The Navy Yard that serves Urban Outfitters.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

I’m just back from Philadelphia, where I spent most of last week at Greenbuild, the nation’s premier conference and expo focused on the burgeoning green building movement. I heard there were 25,000 attendees….

Several of us had the opportunity to visit The Navy Yard, which I had been hearing a lot about.

Producing Ethanol From Corn Is a Bad Idea

Posted November 18, 2013 10:08 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Producing ethanol from corn is a bad idea not only because of the poor energy return on investment (EROI), but also because of the impact it is having on ecosystems in the Midwest

Production of ethanol has dramatically increased acreage devoted to corn in the Midwest.
Photo Credit: Lynn Betts, USDA-NRCS

Corn-based ethanol as a vehicle fuel has never been a good idea. But an in-depth investigation by Dina Cappiello and Matt Apuzzo of The Associated Press, published last week, outlines a lot of other reasons why we should finally kill this particular farm subsidy.

Where did we get this idea to begin with? The U.S. is one of the most agriculturally rich nations in the world, and we’re also one of the world’s largest fossil fuel importers. It makes sense on some levels to convert some motor fuel to biobased sources, such as ethanol and biodiesel—because we can produce it ourselves, helping to wean our dependence on oil from the Middle East and other politically unstable or unfriendly places.

Is There a Place for Vacuum Insulation in our Buildings?

Posted November 13, 2013 9:19 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

For insulating our buildings, vacuum insulation panels may not be cost-effective, but they will become common in other applications

Microtherm's vacuum insulation panel, with a microporous substrate covered with an impermeable aluminum skin. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Microtherm

I’ve recently worked on revising the BuildingGreen Guide to Insulation Products and Practices (available as part of a webcast), so I’ve been steeped in all sort of insulation materials, including some oddball products. One of those is vacuum insulation—operating on the same principle as a Thermos bottle.

Vacuum insulation is a great idea—in theory. To understand why, it helps to know a bit about heat flow.

Recent Comments


Foam-In-Place Insulation: 7 Tips for Getting Injection and Spray Foam Right

J.R. Anderson says, "The performance is in the details. This was a very good article from that viewpoint." More...


7 Tips to Get More from Mini-Split Heat Pumps in Colder Climates

Robert Henshaw says, "Thanks for the comments" More...

Ruth Schneider says, "Interesting...definitely want mini split/ductless. So are F and M equal in quality? Mits has the most contractors/dealers near to us. " More...

bob coleman says, "The Mits is a min-split The Lennox is likely a typical HVAC heat pump system, with indoor ducts, and a cabinet indoors with a larger heat pump..." More...

bob coleman says, "These units are not big monster noise makers like the typical outdoor compressor. Of course vibration could be an issue due to some sort of home..." More...