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‘USGBC v. Energy Efficiency’ Finds Its Way to Litigation

One of USGBC’s more vocal critics claims in a class-action lawsuit that meeting LEED standards doesn’t deliver as promised on energy efficiency, water efficiency, or air quality. The suit highlights important issues, but will it hold up in court?

Posted on Oct 16 2010 by Richard Defendorf

This is an interesting time for proponents and detractors of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program. As one the most popular green-building certification services in the nation, LEED also is one of the biggest targets of critics who find fault, in various areas, with its rating system.

One common complaint is that energy efficiency isn’t properly weighted in LEED criteria. At a green-building summit co-presented last month by the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association, for example, forensic engineer Joe Lstiburek, a principal at Boston-based Building Science Corporation and a GBA Advisor, took aim at what he said were essentially identical levels of energy efficiency performance among LEED-certified commercial buildings and a national performance survey of buildings that were not certified.

A principal weakness in the current lineup of green-building rating systems for commercial buildings, including the LEED for New Construction and Major Renovation program, Lstiburek said, is that they give too much weight to factors other than energy efficiency, which in his view should account for 80% of the ratings score, with water efficiency covering 10% and materials 10%. He went on to emphasize the importance of taking the time to focus on often-neglected building-science details – floor-to-wall and wall-to-ceiling points of contact in particular – when developing building plans.

Another critic presses his case
Then, last week, simmering concerns about LEED certification came even closer to a boil. A lawyer for Henry Gifford, an occasional GBA contributor and the owner of Gifford Fuel Saving, an energy consultancy based in New York City, filed a class-action lawsuit on Gifford’s behalf on October 8 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming that LEED doesn’t deliver as it allegedly promises on energy efficiency, water efficiency, or air quality.

The complaint refers to “Defendants’ deceptive marketing claims that LEED-certified properties use 25% less energy and achieve CO2 emissions reductions over non-LEED-certified improved air quality and improved water efficiency, false claims which deceive substantial segments of the market in violation of the Lanham Act…” The Lanham Act is a federal law designed to protect against trademark infringement and false advertising; the suit also alleges fraud under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The class of plaintiffs includes Gifford, building owners who have paid for LEED certification, tradespeople who have lost business because of USGBC’s allegedly fraudulent climb to market dominance, and taxpayers whose taxes helped pay for LEED certification of publicly commissioned buildings. The complaint demands $100 million in compensation, cessation of alleged deceptive and fraudulent practices, and payment of legal fees.

Interpretations of data
The assertions in the suit hinge in large part on Gifford’s analysis of a 2008 study comparing predicted energy use in certified buildings with actual energy use, and with a national average for existing buildings. The study was conducted by USGBC and the New Buildings Institute, which drew on data from the Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey of 2007.

As Environmental Building News noted this week in its report on the lawsuit, NBI concluded from the data that LEED buildings are, on average, 25% to 30% more efficient than the national average – a finding that contrasts starkly with Gifford’s analysis of the information, which concluded that LEED buildings are, on average, 29% less efficient.

USGBC told EBN it would respond after it has reviewed the complaint. Meanwhile, Shari Shapiro, a LEED Accredited Professional who is an attorney with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, based in Philadelphia, noted in a blog posted on GreenBiz.com that the complaint’s standing as a class action could be shaky given the diversity among the plaintiffs and the disparate harms USGBC’s program allegedly caused them.

Questions of guarantees and intent
“The plaintiffs,” Shapiro writes, “are purporting to file suit on behalf of a whole range of plaintiffs with all different harms – harms to building and design professionals who sought educational certifications, building owners who paid additional money to have their buildings certified and other unspecified ‘consumers,’ and taxpayers.”

Should the class action fail to be certified by the court, Gifford would be the sole plaintiff. The harm done to his business by LEED, he told EBN, stems from USGBC’s allegedly false claims that its product saves energy – claims that allegedly have advanced LEED’s market power unfairly. “Unless you’re a LEED AP,” he said, “you're not going to get work.”

While the suit might further focus attention on an issue that Gifford believes is vital to the building industry, for his legal team to advance and win the case, it not only would have to demonstrate that his interpretation of the NBI study is correct but also prove – through the discovery process, should the case proceed – that USGBC intentionally misled plaintiffs on the issue.

One USGBC co-cofounder who was not named in the lawsuit, Michael Italiano, pointed out, however, that while the LEED for Existing Buildings program (introduced in 2002) provides a system for tracking building performance, LEED projections about energy efficiency for a project are just that – projections. “LEED doesn't guarantee anything,” he told EBN, “and I think LEED gives people the tools to understand that.”


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1.
Sat, 10/16/2010 - 11:53

LEED
by mike eliason

Helpful? -1

"LEED doesn't guarantee anything"

So I can just claim my building is LEED platinum, then? Surely LEED must guarantee something, otherwise all these municipalities that are offering FAR or height bonuses, or requiring municipal buildings over x,xxx square feet to meet a certain rating would need to revise these perks.

Also, I have never understand why a system with an acronym that starts out 'Leadership in Energy', actually allows buildings to be certified without significant energy savings. Where is the leadership? Even with the revised ratings (is LEED the new windows? do we really need an update every 6 months?) it's still not requiring decent performance. Lstiburek's article was great, though it hasn't gotten much coverage. We've been discussing in our architect/builder circle for years about the inherent weaknesses of LEED (there are several) but the lack of a correlation between energy reduction and certification is a big one.

I'm actually with Frank on this one. He's hardly the 'Monckton' of green building. In fact, we've seen in a number of municipalities his fears are already coming true - deficit hawks complaining about increased building costs of LEED, as well as no reduced energy costs. Then pushing for their municipalities to relax green mandates because of it. This is not the direction we need to go, and wouldn't be happening if LEED buildings were actually leaders in the energy department, or met a metric like passivhaus/minergie/etc.


2.
Sun, 10/17/2010 - 05:08

Suing the USGBC
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 1

I'm not going to comment on the probability that Gifford's suit will prevail; I'm not a lawyer. Nor am I going to comment on the political wisdom of litigation as a tactic in a case like this. Plenty of other people are available to express opinions on those two issues.

However, I can't resist pointing out:

1. Gifford's suit is, in part, motivated by the tremendous frustration felt by energy-efficiency experts who have stood by for at least 30 years and watched this country build thousands of poorly insulated, leaky, over-glazed buildings, in spite of ample evidence that (a) humans are using fossil fuels at an unsustainable rate, and (b) designers and builders have already perfected cost-effective techniques that allow buildings to use a fraction of the BTUs they use today.

Concerning this very basic issue, it's clear that our government doesn't get it. NAHB doesn't get it. And USGBC and LEED don't get it. The Passivhaus crowd gets it -- and I say this as someone who is aware of the flaws in the Passivhaus standard.

2. Many of us in the energy-efficiency community are troubled that many local governments are mandating that certain types of new buildings -- large commercial buildings or municipal buildings -- must be LEED-certified. The reason we're troubled is not necessarily because LEED is imperfect, although it clearly is; we're troubled because the USGBC is a private entity, not a governmental agency, and, as a private entity, it not only profits from this monopoly, but it develops its agenda without the checks and balances the government employs (at least in a democracy).


3.
Sun, 10/17/2010 - 07:28

Leeds is turning into a high end paid for title
by Kathy Tompkins

Helpful? 1

I can't afford the title even though I am building a well insulated family house in NY with my Dad that will use a lot less fossil fuel. I live in Jackson, Wyoming where high end homes brag about their Leeds certification on a 3,4 or 5,000 sq ft. home. Sounds ridiculous on that big of a house especially when it's only used a few weeks out of the year but you still have to run the heat on it most of the year. I live in a 1200 sq ft home that is woefully inadequate in insulation but probably still is cheaper to heat and maintain then the 2 by 2 by 4 homes. (2 people, 2 weeks out of the year, 4,000 sq ft)


4.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 11:47

Green building is not about Energy
by MichaelAnschel

Helpful? -1

Energy activists love their science projects, but even Joe admits energy fanatics are dangerous. The problem with Gifford and friends is their fundamental misunderstanding of both the USGBC and Green building in general. It stems from their desire to see their cause (energy conservation) finally given some attention. Imagine if you had spent 40 years preaching to the same group of 200 without gaining traction in the marketplace. Energy junkies thought LEED would be their white knight, and when it turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of architects trying to create market shift and a new era of thinking and understanding, they cried foul.

Gifford needs to thank the USGBC for giving him his 15 minutes of fame and then get over himself. I have to believe he is profiting plenty from the new demand for well designed multi-story boiler systems. Perhaps he could apply some of his spare time to working with ATHENA and PHAROS to help improve LCA models, health and environmental impacts of materials and manufacturing, and social responsibility metrics.

Oh wait, that might mean he would have re-evaluate his use of copper and lead softened brass, which might lead him to gain a better understanding of Green Building.


5.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 12:00

"Green building is not about energy"?
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? -1

Michael,
Those of us in the green building movement are likely to disagree about the relative importance of energy use compared to materials selection or IAQ issues -- but even the most rabid and fervent "energy hardly matters" advocate wouldn't state baldly that "green building is not about energy."

Of course it's about energy. It's not ONLY about energy -- but it's certainly about energy.

It's fine to argue about the details of any existing rating system. Some say that LEED gives too much weight to energy use; others say not enough. But surely we can all agree that we have to include a focus on energy when defining "green."


6.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 12:14

My bad
by MichaelAnschel

Helpful? 0

Martin, I goofed! I meant to say it isn't all about energy. Energy consumption by the structure in operations should account for roughly 20% of the buildings green valuation. Another 20% from energy consumed through manufacture, transport, installation, and processing after it's functional life. Indoor environmental should be at least 20%, and another 20% must be allocated to worker health and safety and environmental impact as it relates to human health, wellness, and land use &r rights (social justice). The remaining 20% should be assigned to deal with water usage and land impact of the structure. Just in case Carl joins this conversation, durability is a function of resource efficiency.

Thanks for catching my mistake.


7.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 12:40

Thanks for the clarification
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? -1

Michael,
Thanks for the clarification.

And count me in the camp of those who would argue for a much higher weighting to operational energy use in any green rating system -- far higher than 20%.


8.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 12:41

Kathy : "Small is Beautiful"
by Andrew Henry

Helpful? 1

Hi Kathy,

Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland wrote a journal article in 2005 called 'Small is Beautiful: U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment" which points out that even though our houses (and second homes, and third..) are more efficient per unit of living area. They are far more wasteful given the size of the home and the household.

Small is Beautiful U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment

You are right in thinking that your house is more efficiently used!

Cheers,

Andrew

P.S. Should Alex and Jessica be reading this. I came across your article when my wife was doing her Master's thesis and passed it on to me to. It was required reading! And so it should be.


9.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 12:45

Prioritizing Green
by Andrew Henry

Helpful? 0

As for prioritizing "Green", I can't imagine how Energy Reduction, Energy Reduction And Energy Reduction would not be the first three priorities on a list of "green" building goals given the scarcity of easily extracted oil (and consequently it's affect on price), adaption to Climate Change (time for mitigation is running pretty short), and the downstream impacts of alternative oil sources like the Tar Sands.

Cheers,

Andrew


10.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 13:02

Count me in the 'far higher than 20%' group, too.
by Allison A. Bailes III, PhD

Helpful? 1

Martin & Michael,

Yes, there's certainly a healthy debate about how much the various components in green building programs should be weighted. At a conference last year, Joe Lstiburek said energy conservation should be about 80% and materials and water about 20%. I think that's a pretty good ratio.


11.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 13:42

Why bother
by MichaelAnschel

Helpful? -1

Ummm... First, Joe is flat wrong.
Second, why are we concerned with saving energy? I thought it had something to do with GHGs and impact on the fragile ecosystem that supports human life. Or do you just think burnining fossil hydrocarbons for heat (smaller % of actual use) and electricity (larger % of actual use) is a waste of a good resource? Since Joe doesn't believe humans have an impact on climate change why emphasis energy at all? (We don't use foreign oil to heat our homes, and only a fraction of our gasoline is derived from mid-east oil.)

If we are talking about saving the humans, then saving energy at the expense of human health sounds just plain short sighted. A sick and dying occupant makes a poor referral. Purchasing copper without caring about those 16 year old miners in Bolivia that will never see their 25th birthday just so we can install another DX Geothermal system is not right.
Water is a far more precious resource than oil. We don't need energy to live, but we sure as heck need water, and any global politics expert will tell you that water access is the part of climate change that is the number one concern for global political destabilization and national security.
The problem with the building science community is it's inability to realize that while the home by be a system, it is part of a much larger network of systems, and just like talking about insulation instead of wall assembly is problematic, so is talking about building performance without acknowledging the land it inhabits (watershed) or the creatures it was created for (humans).
The industry of Green is one that is intended to usher in an era of systems thinking and understanding of our role in the biosphere as a part of nature.

Just sayin'......


12.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 13:50

Copper and water
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 0

Michael,
What's your favorite element for electrical wiring? Aluminum? (By the way, aluminum production uses a lot of energy...)

Many parts of the U.S. have plenty of rainfall. Where I live in Vermont, my neighbors and I use surface water (springs). What we don't use just flows downhill. And it rains so gosh darn much that drainage is more of an issue than water collection.

Here in New England, we DO heat homes with foreign oil. Granted, a lot of it comes from Nigeria, not just Saudi Arabia as many people seem to assume...


13.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 14:04

Fix it and move on
by David Posada

Helpful? -1

Having worked on over a dozen commercial LEED projects, I've experienced its flaws and witnessed a shift in attitudes toward green building. I've seen frustration, misunderstanding, and misplaced expectations of LEED, but still consider it a valuable tool.

Most buildings are built by developers who get little financial benefit for investing in higher performing systems since the paybacks usually benefit someone else. They haven't seen enough demand yet for highly efficient buildings and they have to compete with every other project that's just meeting code. They are investing "other people's money" that comes with all kinds of strings attached. Even public institutions often have a hard time shifting money from future operating budgets to the capital budgets that pay for construction. They often don't have the money yet that could otherwise pay for lower life-cycle costs.

You can't change the commercial design and construction industry overnight. If LEED had tried to do all the things people want it to do right out of the gate, it wouldn't have gotten off the ground, or had the same impact on the mainstream market that it's had. Making certification based on the design and construction of the building, and not the actual performance is a flaw, but probably a necessary one for the early versions. Newer versions now require performance tracking.

Incentive programs that buy down the higher first costs and the perceived competitive benefit of LEED certification has allowed many projects to be greener that otherwise wouldn't have gone there.

Can a LEED building use more energy than predicted? Sure. Buildings don't use energy, people do. Much of the building's management, plug loads and occupant behavior is beyond the control of the design team.

Can you build a high performing building without LEED? Sure. Would there be as many commercial buildings trying to be more sustainable, and would there be as many materials, products, and systems that have better environmental performance than 10 years ago without LEED? I don't think so.

Does a LEED checklist promote the wrong things and ignore bigger priorities? In the hands of some people, it can. Same could be said of any tool or rating system. "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Is a LEED building a truly sustainable one? No, not yet. But in the majority of cases it's a significant improvement over what would otherwise get built. Other standards like PassiveHouse or the Living Building Challenge are great for the pioneers who are leading the top 5 or 10% of the industry. For an industry known for being cautious, conservative, and slow to adapt, LEED has had a big impact on the middle of the bell curve.

Would the industry be better served by stricter energy codes or regulation? Maybe, but I don't believe we'd get there as quickly if LEED hadn't offered the commercial building industry something palpable that they *wanted* to adopt and compete to achieve.

Is the system flawed? Sure, like everything. Building codes have been around for centuries, LEED for only 10 years. But it's made more difference in those years than decades of law suits, protests, regulations, and finger pointing. It's an valuable tool that's worth using, and worth improving.

Does the urgency of climate change demand stronger action? Oh yes. But since we have to build the plane while we're flying it, let's work with what we have. Does this lawsuit help? I doubt it.


14.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 14:11

Energy Is Not A Uniform Metric
by Edgar Lopez

Helpful? 1

LEED definitely has its flaws -- mainly regarding measuring performance. It is, in essence, a building philosophy. I like this philosophy as it is creating a positive mind shift, getting people to even consider 'green'. However a philosophy is not enough to adequately quantify it's impact.

What should the USBGC do? Shifting to a performance based standard like Passivhaus would be nice -- but it's not that simple. LEED, in my opinion, has already a functional framework... it's just needs some tweaking. So this discussion is about energy, so how do we know how much it should weigh in the certification process? A potential answer is has already been similarly applied to some other aspects of LEED certification such as regional priorities or the 500-mile material radius.

The energy impact on LEED certification, I believe, should be weighed on the carbon footprint of the building's primary energy source. For example, if your power utility supplies your building with coal-fired electricity, the energy weight should be much higher than that of a building which uses electricity generated by a hydro dam.

Personally, I would like to see a building metric similar to Energuide labels for whole building energy use (not just energy per square feet): "This house uses approximately XX kWh per year"

I would also like to see more retrofits an less new construction. We need sustainable retreat... not sustainable development.


15.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 17:55

Taking energy seriously vs. skewing priorities
by TJ Elder

Helpful? 0

The trouble with saying that energy efficiency should be 80% of a LEED score, or similarly overwhelming other considerations in designing a building, is if it makes people overlook the environmental impacts of the building materials used to achieve that energy efficiency. For example, what if the production and usage of polyurethane foam were to skyrocket as people scramble to reduce their energy needs before we reach that global warming tipping point? It could be dramatically counterproductive.

Taking the issue seriously shouldn't mean myopically ignoring the environmental consequences of "high performance" building materials and equipment. Note that this doesn't suggest relaxing the goals for energy efficiency. It just means not allowing that priority to encourage counterproductive choices.

Highly energy efficient buildings can resemble hybrid cars--achieving a certain performance metric but at no small environmental cost along the way. To really start consuming less, forget hybrids and ride a bike.


16.
Tue, 10/19/2010 - 03:05

Why Combine Energy with Water and Health and Durability
by Kevin Dickson, MSME

Helpful? -1

Edgar, just the other day I proposed Energuide for LEED-H at a different GBA blog. Everyone understands dollars and years, so $/yr is the only rating that will be understandable to homebuyers. And if a LEED rating isn't a guarantee, it's worthless to a consumer. Sorry for the repetition, but here's your Energuide idea after a tad more thought:

"In building code terms, LEED is far too prescriptive and not performance oriented enough. Throw in "too complex for real customers" and too expensive, and what you have is nearly worthless.

Here's a solution I've been mulling:

1. Let the building departments adopt the 2009 energy code as they wish. Then STOP any energy code changes forever. The technology is still changing too fast to attempt to follow it with prescriptive code "improvements". Another reason for freezing the code is to prevent those pesky unintended consequences that aren't even discovered for 20 years. (see Solar Driven Moisture in Brick Veneer at BuildingScience.com)

2. Then let builders build as they see fit. Good ones will keep improving the sustainability of their product. (If you care enough to be reading this blog, you're probably one of the good ones)

3. Here's where we replace prescriptive with performance: You can't get any sort of LEEP (Leadership in Energy Efficiency Performance) rating PRIOR to building anything. To get a LEEP rating, the home must have a simple Web-based monitoring device installed for at least one year. The cost of this should only be $1000-$3000, it only needs a handful of measurements, some of which are already there, like kwh consumption, water consumption, gas consumption. Add two indoor temperature readings, hot water tank inlet and outlet, outdoor temperature north side of house and south side of house, major appliance electricity consumption, etc.
This data can then be used to "normalize" the performance results. The square footage of the house is left out of the normalization calculations.

4. The LEEP rating is in dollars, just like a yellow EPA EnergyGuide label for appliances. A true net zero energy house gets a LEEP rating of $0/yr. If you put on excess PV panels, and the utility pays you for your excess production, then your LEEP rating can be calculated to equal what the utility pays you for the year, and is negative, say -$200/yr.

A 1000 sq. ft. home built to 2009 code minimum might get a rating of $800/yr. A 2000 sq. ft. home built to 2009 code minimum should perform a little better per sq. ft. than the 1000sq.ft. home, so it might get a rating of $1400/yr.

This performance rating will always guide the builder in the right direction.

5. The other non-energy efficiency related metrics can have their own rating, such as LEEPdurability, and LEEPwater. A near-zero maintenance house might have a LEEPdurability rating of $30 per year, while a house that needs painting and new light bulbs often would be rated at $300/yr. Again, the LEEPwater rating is in $/yr. Oh yeah, don't forget LEEPembodiedenergy. That could be in kwh or $.

The ratings are thus understandable, simple, standardized, and allow the builder his own solutions rather than any prescribed by LEED.

Eventually these ratings will be meaningful to buyers, and that's when the builders learn they must generate good ratings. That's what I like, market forces in play instead of federal policy!

Since this is so similar to the appliance rating program, the LEED officials must have studied the method, but I can't figure out why they rejected it."

Instead we got a mess that some people hate enough to sue for $100 million.


17.
Wed, 10/20/2010 - 18:56

LEEP Proposal
by Alison Kendall

Helpful? 0

I like the simplicity of your proposal. In my experience, this could deliver a lot of value to clients who want to be green without risking cutting edge technology. I think it could be combined with prescriptive systems which emphasize cost effective quality home construction systems like Build It Green or EnergyStar and be a real great innovation.


18.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 09:53

Kevin Dickson's Proposal
by Anonymous

Helpful? 0

How refreshing to read Kevin's proposal after wading though all of he earlier posts. It is always nice to find clear thought providing cooling breezes over what is otherwise a lot of hot air.


19.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 10:09

A few basic changes to the
by Anonymous

Helpful? 0

A few basic changes to the energy sections of building codes have just as much benefit as all the LEED game-playing. However, architects, in particular, love nothing more than 'awards' and certifications and medals. They are like a pack of old Soviet generals festooned to the lapels with that stuff.
LEED may have some benefits but, in my opinion, they are outweighed by the silliness of the arbitrary procedures.


20.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 13:53

Interesting discussion
by WesM

Helpful? -1

There has been much discussion of issues and concerns that I have had with LEED. I see LEED as a holistic approach, and that results in the problems of perception and ranking of priorities. I've always felt that LEED was a bit gimmicky and maybe more of a promotional and marketing tool. The worst part is when lay people and politicians get caught up in the hype without really understanding what is involved and all the implications.

I have been able to resist the pressure to complete the process to acquire my LEED AP certification, so far. The essence of what LEED is about are basic principles that we were taught right from first year in architecture school. Our faculty, at that time, had a bunch of old hippie types, and maybe that made my experience different from other schools of architecture, but these aspects are what I see as fundamentals, however, not all fundamentals are shared across the construction industry.

We used to have a great program, here in Canada, called the Commercial Building Incentive Program, or CBIP. It was funded by the federal government and provided a grant to the building owner for building a building that used less energy. The standard was to beat the Model National Energy Code (MNEC) by at least 25%. The energy saving was based on computer modeling performance and the grant was two years energy savings to a maximum, that I believe was $125,000.00, but my memory could be wrong. The purpose of the grant was to incentivise the owner to take additional steps to go beyond conventional practices and to cover the additional costs associated with applying for the grant. The great part was that the grant always exceeded the costs, so the owner got some bonus money and the long term benefit of reduced energy consumption. The program could apply to renovations and additions, as well as new construction. It was a good, national program, and focused solely on energy. It is long gone now and was only part of a solution, but it had a simple practicality that made it easier to sell to commercial and institutional clients. I think there was some effectiveness in that simplicity. FWIW.


21.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 15:23

LEED vs NAHB
by kimshanahan

Helpful? 0

The legal challenge to LEED seems inevitable, even more so now that LEED-H is horning its way into the marketplace. It weakness in energy has always been its Achilles heel. Even its reliance on ResNet and its HERS rating is a weakness, especially in a residential market dominated by tract builders with little architectural involvement.

Many homes with problematic thermal by-pass details can still test tight with blower doors and achieve their projected HERS indices. But will they perform? Not as well as they could with proper attention to the details of thermal bypass. Only Energy Star seems to have gotten the message on a national scale with its thermal bypass checklist.

The problem with HERS is that many (if not most) of the raters have little or no building science background. Thermal bypass details are tricky, sometimes counter-intuitve, and take much practice to recognize and know how to fix. I don't know how many LEED-AP architects I have met that still don't get it, but it is many. They don't know how to call out preventive, cost-effective solutions in their designs, which leads to very expensive fixes, or even worse, ignoring the issue altogether.

At our new LEED Gold Community Convention Center, local building science guru Bill Althouse offered to point out to the archtiects and project managers (for free) where improvements could be made in the wall to ceiling details. He was ignored and made to feel unwelcome, either because they didn't care or were too embarassed to acknowledge their ignorance. The building got its Gold but it leaks energy all winter long.

Martin is right that NAHB still doesn't get it, but at least ICC-700 addresses the issue. And the NAHB is not a club for designers, as LEED is. At least they have the ABILITY as a trade organization to actually (someday) teach its membership of general contractors and trade contractors how to do things right. LEED will never have the educational reach of the HBA chapters across the country. For better or worse, the NAHB still may be the best vehicle for teaching home-builders how to do things right.


22.
Wed, 10/27/2010 - 13:56

Embodied Energy and Limiting Economics
by Joseph Bridy

Helpful? 0

A few worthwhile items associated with economics, energy terminology and usage.

Embodied energy in refined materials and built structures is real energy too. Buildings in cities (especially the re-use of existing buildings) have a huge low energy advantage over almost all new construction on green field sites largely accessed by automobiles, due to economies of scale and proximity.

Proximity to social, work, living space, water, food and public transportation is a huge factor in lowering the "total energy use" of a building and it's user population over time. By enabling low energy coming and going, socializing the means of transport and reducing the distances traveled, more can live on less.

The current, so called 'free market' consumer driven economy, is based on extracting the maximum profits by maximizing consumption of things and services and increasing the 'real' cost of living. This model deliberately uses more and more energy, in all forms, as it 'succeeds' in meeting unsustainable and short term goals of unlimited market growth on a limited planet. It is global in it's negative impact, not at all universal, indigenous nor self limiting in practice. Building to LEED is a step away that self destructive model, but it is a firm step in the right direction.


23.
Thu, 01/27/2011 - 18:22

LEED
by John E

Helpful? 0

Henry Gifford is my hero. The day LEED dies I will be happy.


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