Ask Questions, Then Design Lighting

Lighting design should be part of the initial facility design phase to ensure effective illumination and energy savings.

Cheryl Ford, marketing manager for OSRAM Sylvania, Danvers, MA.

Cheryl Ford, marketing manager for OSRAM Sylvania, Danvers, MA.

The intended use for a building and the owner’s design goals not only affect the layout, finishes, and furnishings, but have a significant impact on lighting needs and energy costs. Unfortunately, lighting often is not discussed in the early design stages for new and major renovation projects. If lighting is a part of the early discussions, it is much more likely that the best possible luminaires will be chosen to fit the style of the building and its intended use.
   Discussing lighting early will also help ensure the building’s design can accommodate the desired luminaires and controls to achieve the lowest energy and maintenance cost without sacrificing lighting quality. Before specifying lighting, answer the following questions.
   Who is the end user?
   Is the building owned by a company for its own use or is the space being leased to multiple tenants? For businesses, branding by way of unique building design and layout plays a part in establishing that brand. In addition, exterior and interior lighting are equally important for the safety and well being of workers, customers, and clients. If a building is to be occupied by a single company, it is easier to minimize the number of luminaire types. For leased spaces, tenants often want the space constructed to meet their requirements, and this includes lighting. Lease agreements vary, but tenants often are required to pay utilities on the leased space, so work with them to install the most energy-efficient lighting possible.
   What is the desired style or look?
   Aesthetically pleasing lighting can be modern, contemporary or traditional, and there is a variety of luminaires from which to choose. For an unobtrusive modern look, recessed flat-panel, recessed indirect, or architectural recessed 1×4, 2×2, or 2×4 luminaires can provide a very clean look and uniformly lit spaces. For a more contemporary look, single pendant-mount luminaires can be geometrical, adding an artistic look to the space. There are also more traditional long linear runs of indirect/direct pendant-mount luminaires with an up-light and down-light component providing extremely low-glare lighting. In addition, these luminaires light the ceiling, brightening the look of the space.
   You do not need to sacrifice on the aesthetics of a luminaire just to save energy. State-of-the-art high-efficiency, long-life fluorescent lamp and ballast systems are available in many styles, providing energy savings as high as 40%, compared with standard T8 fluorescent units. Luminaires using LED systems that offer energy savings as high as 50% when compared to conventional fluorescent systems are available.
   How will spaces be used?
   How a space is to be used determines required lighting levels. In the past, however, many interiors have been over lit. Fortunately, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), New York, has established recommended lighting levels for specific tasks, and following these guidelines will reduce over-illumination and wasted energy.
   The type of space will also dictate the need for additional lighting controls, and this may influence your luminaire choice. Many LED luminaires come with integrated controls for installation ease. Also, layers of light, especially for hospitality and classroom lighting, provide the flexible lighting typically desired. For office environments, the use of task lighting allows overhead lighting levels to be scaled back, reducing energy usage.
   What are the latest energy code requirements?
   ASHRAE 90.1 and California Title 24 have maximum power-density requirements (W/sq. ft.) and mandatory control provisions for interior and exterior applications. The latest versions of each have additional mandatory control requirements. Alterations affecting more than 50% of the lighting load must conform to the codes.
   ASHRAE 90.1-2010 requires space control for enclosed areas with at least one control step between 30% and 70% of full power. Exceptions include corridors, public lobbies, restrooms, stairwells, storage rooms, and electrical/mechanical areas. Various auto-off requirements also are established, particularly for parking garages.
   California Title 24 2013 has added more multi-level control requirements, specified by space type for areas greater than 100 sq. ft. Auto-off requirements are also established for interior and exterior spaces and parking garages. There also are specific requirements for daylighted zones and use of occupancy sensing or auto scheduling. Demand response is now required for all non-residential buildings of more than 10,000 sq. ft.
   When does daylighting make sense?
   There is trend in commercial buildings to use more natural light and provide occupants with outdoor views for health and well-being benefits, as well as to save energy. However, to make daylighting effective, the building design and window selection are extremely important. North/south-facing windows and windows with the proper glazing to minimize glare need to be incorporated into the design. In new-building construction, light shelves and skylights improve daylight use. A window-shading system can effectively control the amount of sun that enters a space. Light sensors and 0- to-10-V dimming is the best way to reduce the luminaire light level in response to available daylight.
   Which lighting technology?
   The cost to install LED lighting instead of conventional fluorescent and high-intensity-discharge technology has decreased immensely in the past several years. LED luminaire performance, controllability, and color quality is equivalent to many fluorescent systems, so for new construction LEDs may be the best choice. For retrofit projects, high-efficiency, long-life fluorescents may be the least expensive option, but do not rule out LED retrofit solutions that use the existing luminaire housing. Utility rebates are available for DLC-qualified (DesignLights Consortium, Lexington, MA) LED luminaires and for high-efficiency and supersaver fluorescent systems, reducing the cost to install the most efficient lighting.
   Lighting can help shape a business and its outcomes in very subtle ways. When done correctly, it can dazzle people, provide comfort, and improve productivity. Quality lighting does not need to break the budget, and it can be very energy efficient. In evaluating lighting options, look at the total cost of ownership. Hire a lighting designer to make sure the best lighting system is designed for the facility.

Cheryl Ford is a marketing manager for OSRAM Sylvania, Danvers, MA. She has
more than 30 years of lighting experience; has held various positions in engineering, marketing, and sales; and is a NCQLP lighting certified professional. Watch for regular lighting columns from Cheryl at

Load Share to Heat Pools, Water

Instead of exhausting building heat generated during daily activity, a thermal-load-sharing system can direct that heat to pools, spas, and water heaters.

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Spring is here, and the cooling season is quickly approaching. Pools around the country that have been decommissioned during the winter are likely to stay that way well into June, unless some type of pool heating is implemented.

But heating open bodies of water with conventional HVAC heat sources can be a rather expensive undertaking, particularly in northern climates, forcing designers and owners to look for a relatively inexpensive heat source. Let’s look at the options.

Solar-thermal is the most energy efficient and renewable source for potable water and pool heating, but solar depends on cooperative weather. Cloudy and cool days can mean a cold pool, necessitating the need for backup heating sources much of the year.

Fossil fuel heating of potable water, pools, and spas is an old favorite. First cost is relatively low, but that comes at a higher price environmentally and monetarily as you move forward. In addition to high costs for propane and other fuels, safety issues are involved when fossil fuels are used as a heat source.

Electric-resistance heating uses raw electricity to warm heating elements over which the water passes, providing a clean and safe water-heating alternative. But it can be extremely expensive. Using the coefficient of performance (COP) rating system (used internationally) for heating equipment, electric heating has a COP of 1.0, meaning that 1 unit of heat is provided for each unit of electricity, a one-to-one ratio, or 100% efficient in the COP rating system.

Air-source heat pumps, designed for pool and potable-water heating, are environmentally friendly and pump outside air into a pool or hot-water tank. However, they too rely somewhat on cooperative weather conditions, i.e., air temperatures being warm enough to facilitate efficient heat extraction. Air-source heat-pump efficiencies are in the 3.0 COP (300% efficient) range.

For swimming pool and spa heating, the best scenario is attained with geothermal-sourced water-to-water heat pumps, pulling heat from a dependable, steady, and renewable energy source; the earth. Geothermal heat pumps can be about 5.0 COP (500% efficient).

Outside temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons, but underground temperatures don’t change nearly as dramatically, thanks to the mass of the earth. Some 4 to 6 ft. below the ground, the temperature remains relatively constant year round (about 50 F to 75 F in the U.S.).

A geothermal-sourced water-to-water heat pump, which can work in tandem with a geothermal HVAC system, typically consists of water-sourced heat pump and a buried system of pipes called an earth loop, and/or a pump to send fluid to a reinjection (Class V thermal exchange process) well. This geothermal source can be shared between the building’s HVAC and water-heating systems.

Think of it like this: While providing power to run your building’s HVAC cooling system, you are also providing the energy to run computers, lighting, servers, copiers, and domestic water heating. Then the building’s HVAC system must use power to remove the heat created by all of these internal gains, on top of the occupant loads (one occupant presents a load of 1,200 BTU each hour). You pay for energy twice to remove this waste heat through the process of cooling your building. Why not channel that heat to where it’s needed?

Among the benefits that you can realize from a geothermal HVAC system is the ability to channel and use this waste heat energy. That’s because, unlike widely used cooling towers and air-sourced cooling equipment (those that have an outside condenser that discharges waste heat), geothermal systems discharge the heat through a liquid heat exchanger (such as with a chiller-cooling tower combination). The heat is entrained in the discharge water line. Most manufacturers of geothermal heat pumps even have a factory installed hot water generator available. This option gives you two extra connections, labeled DHW (Domestic Hot Water) “In” and “Out,” that may be connected to almost any hot-water tank.

There are thousands of geothermal heated pools around in the US. There is a good chance that the local YMCA, hotel, health club, or community pool near you already has geothermal sourced pool heating. Surprisingly, many of these still have air sourced cooling systems that could be converted to geothermal (and likely will be) during the normal course of HVAC equipment attrition and upgrade. When specifying a geothermal HVAC system, consider including a thermal-load-sharing system to make maximum use of building heat.

Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal, Kissimmee, FL. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at

Slash Geothermal Costs With Free Money

Couple inherent energy cost savings with incentive dollars to make a huge dent in the cost of a geothermal system.

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

The economics of purchasing and operating a geothermal HVAC system are not solely reliant on paying notable upfront costs and then counting on energy-cost savings to recoup those costs in the first few years of operation. In fact, much of the upfront costs can be quickly offset by taking advantage of a variety of available incentives.

To start the discussion, let’s simply list the various incentives that are available to residential and commercial consumers. Residential options are included for comparison purposes. Here is a list of the most readily available options:

  • 30% Federal tax credit, uncapped.


  • 10% Federal tax credit, uncapped
  • Maximum Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS)–benefit as high as 38%, uncapped.

Commercial and residential:

  • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding funds entire geothermal HVAC projects for property taxpayers
  • State and local government incentives (varies by region)
  • Utility incentives and funding (On-Bill financing)
  • Geothermal utility services (ORCA Energy).

Many of the incentives/benefits cover the entire cost of a new geothermal HVAC system or retrofit/improvements to an HVAC system. These improvements can include the following:

  • Geothermal source (ground loop/pond loop/Class V well system or standing column well
  • Geothermal (water sourced) chiller/heat pump equipment
  • Ductwork, distribution piping, and specialties
  • 100% fresh-air equipment (geothermal water sourced)
  • Controls and indoor air quality (IAQ) items
  • Electrical service connections
  • Excavation & recovery costs
  • Engineering drawings, permits, and fees.

Federal incentives for geothermal HVAC systems that are currently in effect through the year 2016 include different criteria for commercial and residential.

If the project is residential, all that is required is that the client be a taxpayer and fill out IRS form 5695. The customer will realize 30% of the entire cost of the geothermal HVAC system in direct tax credits. The credits can be rolled over from year-to-year until the full incentive is earned. For example, a $30,000 HVAC system, purchased in 2014, will generate a $9,000 tax credit on the very next tax filing, through 2016.

The reason I included residential is for comparison. If the customer is a commercial entity who owns the commercial property, that entity receives a 10% Federal tax credit. That doesn’t appear to be favorable until the rest of the story is considered. When MACRS is applied, the geothermal HVAC system is depreciated in an accelerated manner from 27 yr. down to an abbreviated 5 yr. A 50% bonus depreciation is also applied to the first year. This 50% bonus has been extended and modified several times since 2008, most recently in January 2013 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

By taking advantage of the commercial/corporate geothermal HVAC tax credits and incentives, an expenditure of $1 million for a geothermal HVAC system will net tax incentives amounting to $480,000 over 5 yr. under current program guidelines. A 48% tax incentive for corporate clients is clearly favorable to the 30% tax credit for residential clients.

PACE is a Federal program, currently available in 31 states, designed for residential and commercial consumers. The program works best for commercial customers in participating areas. PACE is arranged by local government and pays for 100% of the project’s costs. Payback is accomplished through property-tax assessments. Though PACE is also available for the residential sector, the housing market reverses in 2010 brought that funding to a halt. Commercial PACE programs have accelerated and, as of February 2013, 16 commercial PACE programs in seven states are accepting applications to fund geothermal HVAC and other energy-efficient projects.

On-Bill financing provides a way for consumers to repay the capital costs of retrofit geothermal HVAC systems as part of their monthly electric bill.

Electrical service providers have made energy-efficiency retrofits available to consumers for years. The utility companies use their reserves or third-party capital providers to cover the cost of the efficiency upgrade projects. Consumers/businesses are then obliged to pay the costs back over a period of 20 yr. on their electric utility invoice. These programs seem to be gaining favor and continue to grow, as shown by House Bill 1428, MD., “Public Utilities-Geothermal Heating and Cooling On-Bill Financing-Pilot Program,” initiated in February, 2013.

Third-party capital providers have emerged with programs such as “In-Electric Rate Funding,” introduced in January 2013 by Constellation Energy.

Geothermal Utility Services are a promising program that has been party to a market penetration of almost 40% of heating system replacements in Canada in 2011 according to the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition. Geothermal Utility Services, such as Canadian based GeoTility, and its US sister company, OrcaEnergy, cover the cost of the exterior geothermal ground heat exchanger/well system. The consumer then pays a one-time connection fee and a predetermined monthly utility charge to the geothermal utility. The consumer is then only concerned with the cost of the geothermal heat pump/chiller upgrade and is still eligible for many of the other programs mentioned, including the federal tax incentives (U.S.).

But, how much more do geothermal HVAC systems cost than standard HVAC systems? That subject is covered in the Commercial Conversation podcast, “Breaking New Ground With Geothermal.”

Briefly, standard HVAC systems may cost about $3,000/ton, compared with geothermal HVAC systems that may cost $5,000 to $6,000/ton at the lower range tonnage (less than 500 tons). As the tonnage goes up, the cost per ton goes down until, in many cases, a geothermal HVAC system can have a competitive first cost comparable to a standard HVAC system.

In other words, when a commercial entity takes advantage of federal incentives for geothermal HVAC systems, they are realizing essentially a 48% cost reduction benefit on the entire mechanical system. One can be reasonably assured that the resultant first cost of the system can actually end up being substantially less than the first cost of a standard HVAC system.

However, the federal incentives and energy efficiency of a geothermal HVAC system, though compelling, are secondary to some of the other tangible benefits of going geothermal. Consider the following advantages that can be attained only with geothermal:

  • Elimination of outdoor equipment
  • Storm proofing (geothermal equipment is sheltered from storm events)
  • Longevity of system (a result of all indoor equipment)
  • Elimination of fresh water consumption (from commercial cooling towers)
  • Elimination of fossil-fuel consumption (on-site)
  • Superior comfort in heating and cooling modes (more on this in future columns)
  • Enabling thermal load sharing (swimming pools, domestic hot water, HVAC re-heat)
  • System efficiency, as high as 40 EER.

You can see that we are in a favorable market with the many incentives for the implementation of commercial geothermal HVAC technologies. It does take a little legwork on the part of the contractor, engineer, and consumer. Construction professionals that up-sell to geothermal HVAC have all of these resources available to them.

Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal, Kissimmee, FL. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at

Geothermal a leader in the second green movement?

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

What’s the real essence of “going green?” What are we really trying to do? Is it for the environment? How about saving money? Is it to create jobs? Help the economy? Is it about looking “Green”? Or is it about just wanting to “do the right thing”?

If you remember the energy crisis of the 70s, you’ll likely remember the 50-mpg Volkswagen Rabbit diesel. When gasoline was abundant and cheap again, we entered the age of mammoth SUVs, because supply went up and prices stayed down. Now look at us.

With natural gas prices recently at an all-time low ($2.75/million Btu), heating and related costs for commercial buildings has reached an all-time low. Geothermal HVAC systems used to be clearly cost effective against natural gas—and they still are against other fuel sources.

But history has shown us that we should not be fooled by artificially low energy prices. In a 2012 article, Sustainable Plant reports, “Low natural gas prices won’t last, because way too many folks are making far too many plans to cash in.” When energy prices do increase, many of us will have no choice but to pay the increased costs until we can afford to upgrade to a better standard.

In a report that came out from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a division of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Washington on Dec. 10, 2013, the Short-Term Energy Outlook is that the “EIA expects that the Henry Hub natural gas spot price, which averaged $2.75 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2012, will average $3.68 per MMBtu in 2013 and $3.84 per MMBtu in 2014.” That’s a 34% increase between 2012 and 2013 followed by an additional 4% increase between 2013 and 2014.

Green movement number two is on the way, and for more reasons than just increasing energy costs.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems continue to appear everywhere. Electrical production through wind generators is becoming a more common sight in certain areas. Hydropower has been used for generations. Geothermal “hot rock” power generation is growing.

Geothermal HVAC systems don’t get much press. You can’t see them, because equipment is all inside. You can’t hear them; the classic “out of sight –out of mind” scenario. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear much about the technology.

Geothermal HVAC systems remove as much as four times the energy consumption from the electrical grid per dollar spent than photovoltaic systems can add to the electrical grid per dollar spent.* Businesses desiring the elusive “net zero” status come closer to making that a reality by first implementing geothermal HVAC technologies. When considering a reduction in energy consumption costs, geothermal needs to be the first choice. The real hero in net-zero applications is summed up by the statement, “Giant arrays of solar panels produce power, while tankless hot water and geothermal air conditioning reduce demand.” from the news report, “Downtown St. Pete boasts new, ‘net-zero’ building.” You’ll find that the majority of buildings boasting a “net zero” energy goal are employing geothermal HVAC systems.

The number one reason for going green might be reduction of energy consumption of any type. The more peak load we can take off of the electrical grid, the fewer power plants we need. But are people buying into it? According to a new McGraw-Hill Construction study released on November 13, 2013 at the International Summit at the Green Build Conference and Expo, San Francisco, “Green building has become a long-term business opportunity with 51% of study firms planning more than 60% of their work to be green by 2015, up from 28% of firms in 2012.”

Another point in the study is that in 2008, the motivating factor of green building was “…doing the right thing (42%)”. Now the top reasons for doing green construction are “…client demand (35%) and market demand (33%)—two key business drivers of strategic planning.” With green building projected to double between years 2012 and 2015, there can be no doubt that “green movement number two” is underway. The question is, what green/sustainable technologies are going to be increasingly employed?

On November 11, 2013, a press release by Carrier (a subsidiary of United Technologies, and the largest manufacturer of HVAC products in the world) in the Wall Street Journal said, “Carrier Plans Joint Venture with Bosch to Strengthen Geothermal and Water-Source Heat Pump Offerings.” By all appearances, Bosch and Carrier see geothermal HVAC as the next big thing in “green.”

Let me know your plans – are you planning geothermal HVAC projects in the future? Why or why not? I’ll be sure to address your comments in future columns.

The Author
Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems, published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at

*Based on installed cost of $5.90/Watt from the report “Tracking the Sun VI, An Historical Summary of Installed Price of Photovoltaics, July 2013 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory” when compared with the installed cost of electrically powered geothermal heating and cooling ($6,000/ton) with a coefficient of performance of 4.0.

Pumping dryer air outside

We have an unusually long clothes-dryer exhaust duct. It travels along the floor, makes three elbow turns to go up about 8 ft., then a horizontal run to the outside. It’s always been a pain to keep the lint from collecting in the ductwork and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the exhaust efficiency is pathetic.
   Many months ago, I acquired the No-Clog Dryer Duct Booster, manufactured by Tjernlund Products Inc., White Bear Lake, MN, one of our regular advertisers. At the time, I put it in the laundry room to be installed “when I get some free time.” Every time I had to move it, I thought to myself, “I really need to install that thing and see if it works as advertised.” It sure wasn’t going to boost any air sitting in its box.
   About three weeks ago, I discovered that a contractor we hired for some remodeling had knocked the dryer duct off of the back of the dryer. Every time my wife dried clothes, most of the exhaust was getting pumped into the laundry room. That was the tipping point.
   The time had come to install the booster. I dismantled and cleaned the ductwork and, before reassembling, cracked open the Duct Booster box, braced for a some-assembly-required, duct-tape-wrapping, new-wiring, wood-cutting, 10-trips-to-Home-Depot, all-day project. I’m more than happy to report that none of that materialized.
   I had to make one trip to Home Depot and had the Booster installed and all ductwork back in place in about an hour. I plugged the Booster in and it did its calibration, as described in the instructions. Yes, I’m one of those who actually reads the instructions.
   The real test was the first load of laundry. That happened the next day. My wife and I were at full attention when she punched the start button on the dryer. The dryer started and a brief moment later the Booster fired up. I expected to hear the screaming of a small jet engine. Instead, whatever sound the Booster made/makes, is drowned out by the dryer.
   Though quiet, it moves some SERIOUS AIR! I went outside and immediately was concerned that lint would soon be plastered on the neighbor’s house. Warm, moist dryer air was howling out of that vent. Back in the laundry room, the usual buildup of heat during a drying session didn’t happen. Bad in the Illinois winters, but great in the summer when drying clothes was always accompanied by extra AC operation. According to my wife, clothes now dry better and much faster.
   My only regret? That I didn’t install the Booster many months ago. I don’t make it a habit of endorsing products (it’s an integrity thing), but there have to be many commercial situations that involve long dryer-exhaust runs. If you have one, put the Booster on your upgrade list, and no, I don’t offer installation services.—Gary L. Parr

The things you see at Greenbuild

You would expect to find high-efficiency HVAC products, LED lighting, sustainably grown wood, and low-VOC paint at Greenbuild, which ran in Phoenix from Nov. 11 to 13. And maybe a recycling concierge isn’t too surprising, given the audience. But PDF Man and a dress made of carpet? Here are some shots from the show floor and in and around the Phoenix Convention Center that caught my eye. — Jim Carper

This student made a dress from Shaw carpeting. Her reward (or was it a punishment?) was to walk around the exhibit floor.

This student made a dress from Shaw carpeting. Her reward (or was it a punishment?) was to walk around the exhibit floor.


Not sure how to dispose of your half-can of soda? The concierge at the recycling bin has the answer. He told me to pour the liquid into the organic hole and toss the can into another.

I'm not up on my superheroes, but I'm pretty sure Wolvervine would rip this guy to shreds.

I’m not up on my superheroes, but I’m pretty sure Wolverine would rip PDF Man to shreds.

Before minivans, there was the VW minibus. Armstrong's corrugated cardboard model recalled the days of flower power. Employees dressed in tie-dyed shirts. The aging hippies had receding hairlines and paunches (like me). The young, faux hippies were reed thin. (Jealous? A little.)

Before the minivan, there was the VW minibus. Armstrong’s corrugated cardboard model recalled the days of flower power. Employees dressed in tie-dyed shirts. The aging hippies had receding hairlines and paunches (like me). The young, faux hippies were reed thin. (Jealous? A little.)

Water for handwashing flows out the spout, then drains into the tank, in this toilet from Caroma.

Water for handwashing flows out the spout, then drains into the tank, in this toilet from Caroma.

Inside the Phoenix Convention Center.

Inside the Phoenix Convention Center. Hirotsune Tashima’s installation titled “Arizona Beach.” Talk about your dry heat. Ooof!

A zero-emissions way to move around Phoenix. And more reliable than Kramer and Newman's ride in New York City.

A zero-emissions way to move around Phoenix. And more reliable than Kramer and Newman’s rickshaw in New York City.

I've attended a lot of trade shows in the United States and abroad in 30 years, and this is the first time I've encountered the term "suitcasing."

I’ve attended a lot of trade shows in the United States and abroad in 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve encountered the term “suitcasing.”

AIA cranks at Congress

I have cranked on previous occasions about how frustrated I am that the river of government handout money for road repair seems to be a raging, never-ending torrent (Cranking here is one thing. You should hear me when I’m circumnavigating construction sites trying to get to work!!), while commercial construction firms can’t seem to get enough credit to be able to move a shovel full of dirt. The holdup doesn’t seem to be so much a desire to receive a D.C. handout as it does a need to have credit availability return to some level of sanity.
   Today, the American Institute of Architects, Washington, cranked a little at Congress.
   Here’s what the press release tells us was said: Tampa-based architect, Mickey Jacob, FAIA, unveiled the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Rebuild Renew plan for both short- and long-term economic recovery to the House Committee on Small Business at a hearing today. “Small business does not want a bailout. We want access to loans to bridge the economic downturn to help fund operational costs. We want relief from the premium costs of health insurance. We want incentives for people to build, buy, and renovate their homes and businesses. We want the availability of grants that assist in the acquisition and implementation of new technologies to keep small business competitive in the worldwide marketplace. These are investments in the future of the country,” Jacob testified (Download Mickey’s entire statement here.)
   The AIA Rebuild Renew Plan recommends these steps:

  • Make financing available for design and construction projects.
  • Provide tax relief for small businesses.
  • Make tax policies work for recovery.
  • Rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century.
  • Build the new green economy.

   Download the AIA Rebuild Renew Plan here .
   I applaud the AIA for being proactive, not just today, but throughout this recession. I just hope that Congress starts to listen.—Gary L. Parr

Overcoming my green guilt

Three months ago we started a kitchen remodeling project. That action tipped the first domino in a long line of those little black rectangles. Since the kitchen, dining room, entry hall, and living room are all on one floor, and because no home project can be simple and defined, we’ve ended up remodeling the entire floor. Part of that project involved removing the carpet from the living room and dining room floors so we could enjoy the hardwood floors that lie beneath.
   With that background, here’s where my green guilt comes in.
   This past Friday I helped our waste removal specialist toss several rolls of old carpet into his mechanized trash transporter. Since I write and read about sustainable building materials every day, all that went through my mind, as I heaved rolls of carpet into that bin, was whether I should have made an effort to find some kind of carpet recycling pickup service instead of allowing the carpeting and foam padding to go to the landfill. I felt guilty.
   Yesterday I had an opportunity to communicate with the good people who do public relations for Dow Chemical Co., Midland, MI, and their carpet backing manufacturing plant in Dalton, GA, which uses Dow’s LOMAX technology process to manufacture latex carpet-backing material. I’d heard the story before, but I’ll tell it again so others can learn and because it helps me with my guilt.
    At the Dalton, GA, plant, the process annually uses 160 billion BTU of methane gas from landfills to produce carpet backing material. According to the Dow people, using the methane as an energy source reduces annual CO2 emissions by approximately 20 million lb. and replaces more than 200,000 barrels of black gold. The Dow people also claim that their carpet backing products can represent as many as five points under the renewable-energy section of the new NSF 140 Carpet Sustainability Standard (NSF Int’l, Ann Arbor, MI). Carpets certified under the NSF standard are eligible to receive a half to two LEED innovation points. I could list several other features/benefits about the LOMAX technology, but you get the idea—it’s green good.
   Now that my LOMAX knowledge is refreshed, my guilt level is greatly reduced because I can rationalize that maybe the rotting carpet I should have had recycled will do some green good by generating methane gas to power some Illinois entity.—Gary L. Parr

DOE Retrofit Ramp-Up program going fishing

Maybe it’s my cynical mood today, but the recently announced $454 million DOE Retrofit Ramp-Up program, even though it’s in its information-gathering phase, seems to be little more than a fishing expedition. The program is described as being designed to “catalyze a nationwide upgrade that experts estimate could save $100 million annually in utility bills for households and businesses.” That part sounds good. What makes me wonder how well thought out this effort is are vague phrases such as the “program will pioneer innovative models for rolling out energy efficiency,” and “will support large-scale models that can open new energy efficiency opportunities to whole neighborhoods, towns, and, eventually, entire states.”
   The announcement is, technically, a Request for Information, designed to generate ideas/feedback for how to spend this money. The announcement was made on Sept. 14 and the feedback period ends Sept. 28. In that timeframe, if you want to provide legitimate input, you either have to already have a plan cooked up or be willing to burn a lot of midnight oil.
   According to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “The aim of the ‘Retrofit Ramp-Up’ program is to jump-start an industry that makes energy efficiency savings easy to access and available to everyone. By encouraging partnerships between local governments and effective private enterprises, we hope tune-ups for buildings will become as accepted as tune-ups for cars.”
   We’ll see. Sounds to me more like putting $454 million worth of baited hooks in the water and hoping we hook something bigger than a bluegill.—Gary L. Parr

Why don’t we fix our lights?

“Lighting is the single largest user of electricity in commercial buildings. It accounts for 38% of the electric bill—more than cooling, heating, and equipment. If you walk around a commercial building, you see why: The lights are too bright, they’re on for too long, and they illuminate vacant spaces.”
   Those two sentences are the opening paragraph of the Building Power feature that appears in our September issue, mailing Tuesday. I’d be willing to bet the $10 in my pocket that that paragraph describes 90% of the commercial buildings that are in use on any given day.
   Our concept of commercial building lighting is so antiquated, so ineffective, and so wasteful, that essentially all of it should be scrapped. We have lighting technology available to us today that will chop chunks of money out of our energy bills and do it with a rather short ROI, but we aren’t using it. Why don’t we see a nationwide effort to improve workspace lighting and cut energy costs?.—Gary L. Parr